Slumping squads to kick off tourney

Tania Ganguli

Indiana men’s tennis coach Matt Pledger has life in perspective.

“We’re not over in Iraq dodging bullets,” he said. “This is a tennis match, it should be fun.”

In his first season coaching, making sure his players were enjoying themselves was Pledger’s strategy.

At first this worked. Indiana’s positive attitude led them to an 11-3 start.

Then Indiana lost to Ohio State on March 30 and hasn’t won since.

“The guys really weren’t ready for the long, tough season you have when spring comes around,” Pledger said. “They got really down and dejected. It was tough.”

This is good news for the Wildcats,who will face the Hoosiers on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Vandy Christie Tennis Center in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. NU was in a four-way tie for seventh place after the regular season and expected to be the eight seed in the tournament.

But when tie-breakers set the field, the Cats ended up with the ninth seed, the lowest of the three teams tied for seventh place.

“Seeds don’t matter much,” sophomore Tommy Hanus said. “We were in there with all those middle teams and we still just have to win.”

The difference between the Indiana team Northwestern met on Feb. 15 — the first time they played the Hoosiers — and the team they will face on Thursday is momentum.

The first time Indiana came to Evanston, they were in the midst of a six-game winning streak, but this time they are on the tail end of a seven-game losing streak.

The other difference is that NU still remembers what that last match was like.

The Cats lost 4-3 on a controversial call that ended Josh Axler’s match. Pledger called the match “gut-wrenching.”

NU coach Paul Torricelli called it as tough a loss as he could remember.

Thursday is the rematch.

“We’re playing a team that we definitely should have beat last time,” sophomore Tommy Hanus said. “I think we got gypped on a few calls.”

Indiana was the first of several close Big Ten matches NU dropped this season. Those losses sank them to the ninth seed for the conference tournament.

Like the Cats, the Hoosiers suffered several close losses. According to Pledger the losses to Iowa and Michigan were the toughest for his young team. Much tougher than their 7-0 loss to No. 1 Illinois, which Pledger said was where his team played their best tennis.

“When you’re playing the best team in the country, the one thing you can do is use it as a learning experience,” Pledger said. “If we play with that intensity, we just might win it.”

The Cats feel they are too prepared to let this one slip by again. They spent their last week of practice placing more importance on doubles in hopes that the doubles point will help them past Indiana.

“We knew this was coming,” freshman Adam Schaechterle said. “We all have something to prove now, got a little chip on our shoulders.”