Bracketball’ begins with match vs. Iowa

Elia Powers

Northwestern men’s tennis players checked their brackets and packed their rackets Wednesday and headed off to Bloomington, Ind., for the Big Ten tournament.

First up for the No. 7 Wildcats (10-10, 4-6 Big Ten): a first-round rematch with No. 10 Iowa (5-15, 1-9 Big Ten), whom the Cats beat 4-3 in dual-match play Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa. NU plays Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Varsity Courts on the Indiana University campus.

NU’s Brad Erickson said his team is in a good position after playing Iowa twice in five days and winning Sunday.

“We’ve had that edge,” Erickson said. “Three days are not enough time to alleviate a whole lot of problems. Whatever they did wrong will be at the forefront.”

Said freshman Josh Axler: “The win was big going into the tournament. We have momentum.”

Erickson will be back at No. 1 singles Thursday to face Iowa’s Tyler Cleveland, NU coach Paul Torricelli said. Coming off his first Big Ten singles loss of the season Saturday, Cleveland beat NU’s Joost Hol at No. 1 on Sunday in three sets.

Torricelli changed things up at the top spot last weekend but will call once again on Erickson to play No. 1 on Thursday.

“Brad’s our No. 1 guy,” Torricelli said. “I think we have to play him there to justify our lineup.”

Erickson lost to Cleveland 7-6, 6-1 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association regional finals in November. The NU junior had a set point in the first set against Cleveland but was overmatched in the second.

Erickson said many of his teammates are getting nervous for the weekend. But for him, two years of playing in Big Tens are helping him to stay relaxed. It’s now just a matter of staying positive.

“My confidence is a bit down,” Erickson said, after losing to Iowa’s No. 2 singles player this past weekend. “You go out and play this guy and if you lose you lose. You just have to play loose.”

Torricelli said other than the change at the top of NU’s singles lineup, he does not expect either team to change much for Thursday.

Torricelli gave his players a day off Monday and ran a light half-hour workout on Tuesday. During practice the team worked on attacking the net, crosscourt volleying and serving. The coach said he kept the practice pretty loose because he did not want to tire out his team for the weekend.

“At this time of the year it’s about being fresh mentally,” Torricelli said. “(The players’) frame of mind was so good from the weekend, and I just wanted to keep it light.”

The team left for Bloomington mid-day Wednesday and had a short practice at the Indiana University tennis facility at 6 p.m.

NU also played as the No. 7 seed last year when it beat Penn State and upset Michigan. The Cats hope history repeats itself, as their tournament showing last April led to an NCAA regional berth.

A victory today means the Cats will face No. 2 Minnesota Friday. A loss and the team goes home.

Axler said the Iowa victory Sunday was big, but his team has to move on.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Axler said. “We have two wins behind us. We’re on a roll. Now we have to play again. We just have to go for it and hold nothing back.”