Memory of humiliating defeat has Wildcats seeking revenge

Nick Halpern

Embarrassment isn’t a word too familiar to the Northwestern women’s tennis team.

Over the last five years, the Wildcats have produced five Big Ten championships to go with a scant number of defeats.

One of those humiliting losses came two seasons ago at the hands of William and Mary, when NU lost 6-1.

This weekend NU will have its shot at revenge.

The No. 14 Cats (1-0) travel to Williamsburg, Va., on Sunday to face the No. 8 Tribe (2-0), who upset NU in 2002. The victory over then-No. 9 NU helped thrust William and Mary into the national spotlight. The Tribe finished last season at No. 8 after losing to No. 3 Duke in the round of sixteen in the NCAA tournament.

“I felt like we really played a terrible match last time we played them,” NU coach Claire Pollard said. “I think our team is definitely looking forward to the opportunity to play William and Mary.”

The only player who won her match was current senior Jessica Rush, who won at No. 3 singles two years ago. Rush now plays No. 2 singles and is part of No.1 doubles team in the nation with sophomore Cristelle Grier.

Although it is early in the season, a win against a ranked team could give the team an emotional boost.

“I definitely think a win could set a tone for the season,” Pollard said. “If we lose, I’ll probably play it down.”

This weekend will provide the first real test of the season for the Cats’ No. 1 doubles team, as they take on the No. 11 team of Amy Wei and Megan Muth. The Tribe is led by the nation’s No. 26 singles player, Candice Fuchs, who is a two-time First Team Colonial Athletic Association selection.

“The previous week we didn’t play such a great team,” Grier said. “We look forward to the challenge.”

William and Mary is coming off two shut-out victories over George Washington and Richmond. But the Tribe’s competition this weekend will be significantly stronger than what they’ve seen so far — they also will play No. 27 Texas.

Despite NU’s easy win last weekend against Eastern Michigan, the match was crucial in beginning the season, Pollard said. The tennis off-season is November and December, meaning many of the women hadn’t played a competitive match for more than two months.

But now the team must leave the comforts of the Combe Tennis Center in the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center to go on the road.

“There are pluses and minus to playing on the road,” Grier said. “There isn’t the home crowd and you don’t sleep in your own bed, but there’s an excitement of going away and playing a great team on the road.”

Grier doesn’t just have her team and individual rankings to play for this weekend. Although she’s NU’s top player — and the No. 4 singles player in the country — her coach isn’t giving her any special treatment.

“If Grier doesn’t start pulling her weight, we’re going to make her hitchhike home,” Pollard joked.