No. 7 Cats easily blank Marquette (Women’s tennis)

Nick Halpern

The No. 7 Northwestern women’s tennis team couldn’t have expected too much of a challenge from unranked Marquette.

And the Wildcats didn’t get one.

NU trounced Marquette, 7-0, Tuesday night at the Combe Tennis Center, bringing the Cats’ record to 9-3. The match was NU’s last before it starts Big Ten play Friday at home against Wisconsin.

Senior Jessica Rush clinched the victory for the Cats, dominating Genevieve Charron, 6-2, 6-0, to snap a three-match singles losing streak.

“I’ve struggled a little bit my last three matches, but it feels good to win,” Rush said. “It’s always hard to stay very focused against a team you’re supposed to beat.”

But NU coach Claire Pollard never worried about Rush, the No. 67 player in the nation.

“She’s a good player, and she’ll have a tough match Friday against Wisconsin,” Pollard said.

Pollard said she realized mustering excitement to play the 3-7 Golden Eagles was more difficult than in NU’s three previous contests — all against teams ranked in the nation’s top eight.

“I thought (Marquette) was a tough match to get up for, especially having beaten Washington,” Pollard said. “We need to stay humble and grounded.”

Because she anticipated an easy victory for NU, Pollard emphasized honing a certain aspect of the players’ games — coming to the net.

“I was definitely trying to work on getting to the net as much as I could,” Rush said. “In doubles, we tried to work on taking every lob as an overhead.”

Freshman Alexis Prousis, whose seven-match winning streak was snapped against Washington, wasn’t pleased with her play, despite defeating Callan Smith — the lone American player for Marquette — in straight sets.

“I was trying to come to the net, but she kept either hitting winners or missing so I could never get in a rhythm,” Prousis said. “It’s hard to get up for a team like this.

“No one gave us any good rallies, so that made it harder. Hopefully I can play better on Friday.”

Sophomore Cristelle Grier, ranked No. 3 in the nation in singles, initially struggled against unranked Veronica Garcia Briseno, trailing 3-2 in the first set before winning 10 of the next 11 games.

In the No. 6 singles position, senior Connie Chiang had another strong day, winning 6-2, 6-2 against Francina Bonnelly. It was her second straight win at sixth singles after playing in the spot for the first time this season against then-No. 4 Washington on Saturday.

Although her team was the heavy favorite, Pollard knew it was dangerous to completely overlook the Golden Eagles.

“I asked the girls at practice who hadn’t lost to someone they thought they were better than to raise their hand and no one did,” Pollard said. “So you can always lose to someone you think you’re better than.”

The Cats looked sluggish at the beginning of the match, trailing in the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches before taking control and sweeping Marquette in the doubles point.

But this slow start provided the top doubles team of Grier and Rush, ranked No. 3 in the nation, a rare opportunity.

“We try to finish before the second doubles team,” Rush said. “Normally they beat us, but we got them today.”