No. 4 seed NU men need upset to reach final rounds of tourney

Glenn Kasses and Glenn Kasses

It’s never easy to enter a tournament without thinking about coming back home carrying a trophy.

But for the Northwestern men’s tennis team, that is exactly the task at hand.

As the No. 4 seed in a strong field, the Wildcats (13-8) know they can’t get caught up with visions of grandeur when there are few guarantees they’ll get past a single match. Throw in four losses in their last six matches, and the Cats realize that dreams of a Big Ten championship must be pushed to the darkest recess of their minds.

Instead, the Boilermakers – Friday’s first-round opponent in Columbus, Ohio – will provide the Cats with plenty to worry about.

“Our main goal is to just get by Purdue,” NU coach Paul Torricelli said. “They’ve been playing much better and they had a big win last weekend. They beat us last time in doubles, too, and some of those singles matches got really close. But our lineups are completely different for Big Tens. It would be foolish to look past them. We’re trying to eke out a win.”

Torricelli isn’t the only one convinced his team will have a close match against Purdue. The teams are just two spots away from each other in the national rankings – Purdue (11-10) at No. 41, NU at No. 43. And although the Cats beat the Boilermakers in February 5-2, Purdue has played much better of late, winning seven of its last 10 matches.

“The matches were close,” NU freshman Chuck Perrin said of the February contest. “They’re switching their lineup, so they should be a whole different team.

“This is a good opportunity for us to get a good win so we can boost our resume before NCAAs.”

Plus, the greatest equalizer of all comes into play – the pressure of Big Tens. The Cats will be depending on two freshmen, Perrin and Tommy Hanus, and how they react to the environment remains to be seen.

Perrin dismissed the notion that Big Tens will make things any different.

“Anxious? No, I think we did a good job and landed in a good place going into the tournament,” he said.

Torricelli, in his 19th year as the Cats’ head coach, has come to relish the conference’s championship weekend. The trip to Ohio offers an opportunity to wipe out the team’s recent disappointments against conference powers.

And with the match against Purdue up first, the Cats don’t have to think about Illinois or Ohio State, the Big Ten’s top two seeds. Of course, one win against the Boilermakers, and it’s right back into the fray against some of the best teams in the nation for the Big Ten semifinals.

“The environment at Big Tens is fun,” he said. “It’s really exciting, much like the Big Ten basketball tournament – everyone all in one spot screaming and cheering for their team.

“The last three weeks have been tough for us. We feel like we’ve limped home.”

The Daily’s Ariel Alexovich contributed to this report.