It’s raining top-10 squads: Dogs next in line for Cats

Nick Halpern

This weekend marks “the sad end of a chapter” for the Northwestern women’s tennis team, sophomore Cristelle Grier said.

Grier and the Wildcats have their last true test — against No. 4 Washington in the Combe Tennis Center at 11 a.m., Saturday — before the Big Ten season begins next weekend.

The Huskies are the last in a line of five top-10 teams the Cats have faced in the past month and Washington represents the last opportunity for the No. 10 Cats to test themselves against an elite team until the NCAA Championships in late May.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” NU coach Claire Pollard said. “They’re a great team, it’s probably the last top-10 team on our schedule, so from that point of view we’d like to take advantage of winning against someone who’s ranked high.”

Washington (7-1) enters the match with its highest ranking ever — its only loss of the season came at the hands of No. 1 Stanford in the ITA Team Championships that NU also played in.

The Huskies don’t have to prove their mettle to the Cats after defeating NU last season 4-3 in Seattle for their first win against the Cats in four tries.

Washington boasts two top-25 singles players, No. 23 junior Dea Sumantri and No. 25 senior Claire Carter. Last weekend, Carter pulled a major upset over Oregon’s No. 7 Daria Panova. Carter and Sumantri also team up to form the 19th-ranked doubles tandem.

For NU (7-3), the match follows two tough losses to Duke and North Carolina on the road last weekend. Despite the losses, the Cats won’t enter this match pessimistically.

“You’re always going to lose confidence when you lose a match, whether it’s against the No. 1 player in the world or the No. 1,000 player,” Grier said. “We’ve done the work. We’re going into the (match) positively.”

Pollard said the Cats won’t put any extra emphasis on this match, even after losing back-to-back matches for the first time in more than a year.

“It’s no more important than last week,” Pollard said. “If we had won last weekend, I wouldn’t feel any differently.”

Pollard is also quick to refute any notion that the Cats are slumping.

“We can lose 10 matches this year or 20 matches this year and not be in a slump,” she said. “(Last weekend) we just got beat by someone that’s better than us. If we lose to teams that are worse than us, then I’ll be worried about a slump.”

After this match NU plays unranked Marquette on Tuesday and then begins its Big Ten schedule. But senior Jessica Rush said the thought of an easier stretch doesn’t thrill the team.

“Actually the opposite — it’s the end of the best part of our season,” she said.

While one of the team’s goals is to win its sixth Big Ten championship, the conference doesn’t provide as much challenge for Cats. The Big Ten boasts only three other top-50 teams, but Pollard said she won’t enjoy the breather.

“I’d play top-10 teams on the road every day if I could.”