Wildcats looking to achieve perfection in the Big Ten … again

Jim Martinho

After sweeping two home matches last weekend, the Northwestern women’s tennis team will try to complete its second straight undefeated Big Ten season as it travels to Penn State and Ohio State.

The Wildcats, who jumped to No. 14 in the national rankings, take a 16-5 (8-0 Big Ten) record to University Park, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio, looking to extend their 23-match conference winning streak. With a win in either match, NU can also clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament in Bloomington, Ind.

Penn State (6-11, 1-7) hopes to end a disappointing season on a high note against the Cats. The 10th-place Lady Lions enter the weekend on a four-match losing streak but feature 2001 All-Big Ten selection Rebecca Ho.

NU will face a more formidable foe in second-place Ohio State (18-4, 6-2), which boasts a better overall record than the Cats. The No. 35 Buckeyes will rely on 43rd-ranked Monica Rincon, playing in her final regular-season match after surpassing the the 100-win plateau for her career last week.

Ohio State also boasts a 13-0 record in Columbus, but NU’s No. 1 singles player Marine Piriou said she isn’t worried about playing there.

“I don’t think its much harder to play away than (at) home,” Piriou said. “You definitely feel more supported at home, because the fans are great and they show up every time we play. But I don’t think it makes any difference where we play. We’re pretty confident.”

The Cats can accomplish the first of a long list of team goals by completing another undefeated Big Ten campaign.

“It was just one of our goals,” junior Marine Piriou said. “It wasn’t bigger than any other one, but it’s great because we can get the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and that will help because we won’t have to play in the first round, and we can get an extra day to adapt to the courts and the atmosphere.”

Head coach Claire Pollard agreed that securing the No. 1 seed would help the Cats in their quest for a fourth straight conference championship, but she added that it doesn’t guarantee anything.

“That was definitely a goal,” she said. “I feel like not playing (in the first round) Thursday is an advantage, but five teams get that.”

Pollard said the Cats will use the final weekend of the season as a tuneup for the playoffs.

“I think what we’re trying to do is take these matches collectively,” she said. “You can’t really separate them. There are some things we need to do to get ready for next week, like drinking more and sleeping more. We have a rough trip ahead of us and we have to leave again in a few days.

“I’d like to get to get to the point where all seven girls are playing their best tennis of the year. The NCAAs are wide open this year. We’re just trying to get ourselves in a position where we could knock off a team that’s ahead of us, not to take anything for granted, but we want to go as far as we can in the tournament.”

While Pollard might be looking ahead, Piriou and the rest of the Cats are keeping their focus on this weekend.

“We don’t think about the tournament,” Piriou said. “Right now we’re just thinking about Penn State and Ohio State and taking care of the last matches of the season.”