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Feb. 13, 2011

URBANA, Ill. — The 26th-ranked South Carolina women’s tennis team ran its record to 5-1 thanks to an impressive 5-2 come-from-behind victory at No. 29 Illinois on Sunday in Urbana, Ill. The Fighting Illini dropped to 2-5 on the season.

South Carolina fell behind early by losing the doubles point, falling on courts one and three. Leigh Finnegan and Amy Allin of Illinois defeated Anya Morgina and Katerina Popova first at three by an 8-4 score, and the No. 15-ranked tandem of Rachael White and Allison Falkin upended Dominika Kanakova and Dijana Stojic 8-5 at the top spot to clinch the point. The Gamecocks’ Madeleine Saari-Byström and Josefin Andersson claimed the No. 2 spot 8-6 against Chelcie Abajian and Breanne Smutko.

The early portion of singles play looked bleak for Carolina, as the Fighting Illini took the first sets on courts one, two, three and six. Kanakova, though, managed to tie the score at 1-all with a straight-set 6-1, 6-4 victory on court five over Falkin. Finnegan answered quickly for Illinois with a 6-4, 6-1 triumph over Miljana Jocic at the No. 6 position.

Despite the deficit on many of the remaining matches, South Carolina would not surrender another point. During Stojic’s match at No. 2 singles versus Smutko, associate head coach Katarina Petrovic informed the junior on the changeover when she trailed 5-2 that she would be playing for the match later. As it turned out, Petrovic’s foresight was correct.

Before Stojic clinched the match, though, Morgina and Popova did their parts to place Stojic in a position to win it for South Carolina. Morgina came back to defeat White 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 at the No. 1 singles spot, while Popova held off Abajian 7-5, 7-6 (11-9) on court four to make the score 3-2 for the Gamecocks.

With Stojic in the early stages of her third set, Saari-Byström found herself down 5-1 in the third against Allin on court three. It appeared Stojic was Carolina’s only hope for the victory, and with her score tied 2-all, she delivered with four straight games to earn a 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 win and quiet a rowdy Illinois contingent on hand for the match.

Saari-Byström, however, continued fighting and slowly crept back in the match to the point where she only trailed 5-4 once Stojic got the win. She then moved to 5-all and after an exhausting 11th game, Saari-Byström changed sides with a 6-5 lead. In the final game, she coasted past Allin for a 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 final.

The Gamecocks will rest for a week and a half before their next match, hosting Winthrop on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. Weather permitting, the match will be played outside at Maxcy Gregg Tennis Center.

1. #37 Anya Morgina, USC, def. #100 Rachael White, UI, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
2. #93 Dijana Stojic, USC, def. Breanne Smutko, UI, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2
3. Madeleine Saari-Byström, USC, def. Amy Allin, UI, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5
4. Katerina Popova, USC, def. Chelcie Abajian, UI, 7-5, 7-6 (11-9)
5. Dominika Kanakova, USC, def. Allison Falkin, UI, 6-1, 6-4
6. Leigh Finnegan, UI, def. Miljana Jocic, USC, 6-4, 6-1

Order of Finish: 5, 6, 1, 4, 2, 3

1. #15 White/Falkin, UI, def. Kanakova/Stojic, USC, 8-5
2. Josefin Andersson/Saari-Byström, USC, def. Abajian/Smutko, UI, 8-6
3. Finnegan/Allin, UI, def. Morgina/Popova, USC, 8-4

Order of Finish: 3, 1, 2