Better marks needed to earn pass to dance (Men’s tennis midseason report)

Nina Mandell

Forget March Madness, it’s all about the Big Dance in May.

An appearance in the NCAA Tournament is what it’s all about for Northwestern men’s tennis coach Paul Torricelli and No. 44 NU (3-2, 12-5) as it reaches the midpoint in the Big Ten season.

With solid wins recently over Big Ten foes such as No. 75 Purdue and No. 68 Indiana, it seems like the Wildcats are right on track.

“We compete really well, we fight really hard,” Torricelli said. “I don’t know if we fight harder than anybody else, but we don’t quit. It’s made the difference in a number of matches.”

But standing only one game above .500 in the Big Ten and with many of their non-conference wins over teams with losing records such as Coastal Carolina and Weber State it’s not a given that the team is headed straight to the big dance.

The key to reaching the team’s goal is improving the doubles play, Torricelli said. Only the No. 3 duo of Adam Schaechterle and Matt Christian, the youngest doubles team, wins consistently.

But don’t look for them to move up in the lineup. While these two have what it takes to win at the No. 3 spot, they might not fare any better than the team of Tommy Hanus and Christian Tempke who are slightly below .500 at the No. 2 spot.

“(Schaechterle and Christian’s) chemistry is really good,” Torricelli said. “I think they just click together as a team and sometimes that makes the difference between winning and losing. I think that’s been the case many times this year. I don’t necessarily think they’re a great doubles team, but they’re a great pair.”

While the No. 1 team of Chuck Perrin and Justin Hoeveler won’t achieve the top-10 ranking Perrin and alum Jackie Jenkins reached last year, Hoeveler has made great strides playing in his first Big Ten season.

“The biggest surprise, improvement and success story of the year is Justin Hoeveler,” Torricelli said. “I don’t want to think about what doubles would be without him.”

Hoeveler has been the key newcomer in doubles and Tempke has been the key addition in singles. Tempke has 14 wins, many of them at No. 2 spot.

Freshman Willy Lock has matched his classmate with 14 wins, Lock’s coming mainly at the No. 4 spot. Hanus isn’t about to be shown up by his freshman teammates, and is on track for another 20-win season having already notched 15 wins.

But for all the consistent wins that Tempke, Lock, and Hanus notch, its tough play from the entire singles lineup that has come through in some dramatic come-from-behind wins.

For all the mental toughness the Cats possess, the fundamentals that it takes to win sometimes come back to haunt them.

The Cats aren’t quite ready to play with the big dogs. NU has played four teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation — getting shut out in two of them and beating only No. 25 Pepperdine.

While the Cats shouldn’t expect to match the NU women’s team in the national polls anytime soon, they show a lot of promise to reach Torricelli’s realistic goals of ending up in the top three or four of the Big Ten. The Cats continue conference play today with a match at Iowa.

“We’ve improved our record and improved our performance since this time last year,” Torricelli said. “The most important part of the season is yet to come.”