No. 6 Cats see success in first half

Nick Halpern

The Northwestern women’s tennis team entered the season with high expectations.

They haven’t disappointed.

The No. 6 Wildcats (12-3, 2-0 Big Ten) began the winter season No. 14 in the nation and quickly ascended the national rankings with eight wins over ranked teams.

The Cats’ biggest win came against then-No. 4 Washington on Feb. 28.

“It’s the best win we’ve ever had at Northwestern since I’ve been here,” head coach Claire Pollard said.

Consistency from several players has benefited the Cats. The team is led by sophomore Cristelle Grier, the nation’s No. 3 singles player, who has lost only once during the dual match season and hasn’t dropped a set in her 14 victories.

Grier posted the season’s individual highlight when she defeated Georgia’s top-ranked Agata Cioroch in straight sets.

“Obviously the high point for me was beating the No. 1 kid from Georgia,” Grier said.

Grier and her doubles partner, senior Jessica Rush, currently are ranked No. 2 and have been as high as No. 1. Rush is ranked No. 38 in singles.

Freshman Alexis Prousis has won 11 of her last 12 matches at the third spot, including three against ranked players.

NU won its first four matches before falling to No. 4 Georgia at the ITA Team Indoor Championship on Feb. 6. But Prousis points to the Cats’ 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs as one of the keys to their successful first half.

“Even though we lost, we got so much tougher from that match,” Prousis said. “It made us believe that if we focus, we can beat anyone.”

With a successful first half under their belts, the Cats can concentrate on the second — and on winning a sixth straight Big Ten Tournament championship.

“The Big Ten is something we really focus on as a team,” senior Ruth Barnes said. “I try to stay away from saying winning it because that can put a bit of pressure on. Certainly doing incredibly well is something we think about.”

Pollard has toyed with the singles and doubles lineups, trying to find the best rotation.

“If people are just satisfied where they’re at, you’re losing some progress that could be made,” Pollard said. “I’m hoping that people are still working towards whatever their goal is.”

Pollard has kept the same lineup since the Washington match, when senior Connie Chiang was added. Chiang has gone undefeated at sixth singles since the contest against the Huskies.

But the sixth-year coach said she wouldn’t try to “revolutionize tennis.”