Michigan connections fuel road trip (Men’s Tennis))

Tania Ganguli

Growing up in Glendale, Wis., Lia and Anthony Jackson dideverything together — but it was the tennis lessons that reallypaid off for the siblings.

In 1998 Lia Jackson became a Wildcat. Her freshman year she wasvoted team MVP and by the time she left, the Northwestern women’stennis team had won four consecutive Big Ten titles.

She had everything she wanted on the tennis court, except herbrother who chose Michigan over NU.

“It would’ve been nice to have that support from him, but hefell in love with Michigan,” Lia Jackson said.

Anthony Jackson wanted to forge his own path and stay out of hissister’s footsteps.

“I got recruited by Northwestern, but my sister went there,” hesaid. “I just wanted to do my own thing.”

Instead of Anthony Jackson, the Cats landed Ahmed Wahla. Wahlahimself was torn between NU (10-9, 3-5 Big Ten) and Michigan (7-12,1-7), but his final decision to join the Cats fueled a personalfire for the junior.

“Michigan’s big for me,” Wahla said. “I’ve never lost to anyoneon Michigan, and I don’t plan to.”

This weekend, Wahla and the Cats will be playing for more thanpride. The NU men’s tennis team faces Michigan State (12-11, 3-5)on Friday and the Wolverines on Saturday. Both matches will bemust-win situations for everyone involved.

Michigan sits last in the conference, but the Wolverines have aplan.

“We need to get all the spots playing good tennis,” Michigancoach Mark Mees said. “If we can do that, it’ll give us a chance towin.”

One spot that played good tennis last week for Michigan was thesecond singles position, held by unranked Anthony Jackson. Jackson,who went into the match with a “nothing to lose attitude,” defeatedNo. 13 Phil Stolt for the Wolverines’ only point against No. 1Illinois.

Before taking on Michigan, NU will stop in East Lansing, Mich.Both the Cats and the Spartans are going into the weekend tied withIndiana for fifth place in the Big Ten.

“If we can finish top five it’ll be a great season,” MichiganState coach Gene Orlando said. “We’re still playing for something,holding our hat to that, and Northwestern’s the team in ourway.”

The Spartans are coming off tough losses to Illinois and Purdue.Orlando noted that with the Big Ten tournament approaching, theselast few matches will be tough to concentrate on.

That distraction won’t be factor for the Cats, NU coach PaulTorricelli said. In fact, the players are barely aware of the BigTen standings.

“Will we be in fifth if we win both this weekend?” seniorRussell Bennett said. “I haven’t thought too much about Big Tensbecause we have such an important weekend ahead.”

It is that mentality Torricelli believes will help NU focus andwin this weekend. Two wins will put Cats into fifth place and earnthem a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. As theseason draws to a close, the Cats know they must finish strong.These wins will be crucial in NU’s hope for an NCAA tournamentbid.

“Chuck Perrin’s looking forward to this,” sophomore Chuck Perrinsaid. “We have two really big matches and Chuck Perrin believeswe’ll win.”