Flat Cats fall twice to lower-ranked teams

Nina Mandell

Northwestern tennis player Ahmed Wahla never imagined his college career would end with a sprained ankle and a mark in the loss column. But then again, the Wildcats’ regular season didn’t end the way they had imagined either.

Wahla was ahead 6-4, 1-0 against Michigan State’s Michael Flowers on Sunday when he sprained his ankle. Wahla continued his set but ended up losing 6-4, 1-6 and 10-5 in the match tiebreaker.

“I was sure he was going to win,” coach Paul Torricelli said.

Wahla wasn’t the only one who was expected to win. The Cats faced two lower-ranked teams this weekend, but instead of ending their season on a winning note, they lost twice and nearly failed to secure a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.

No. 42 NU (14-8, 5-5 Big Ten) got off to a rough start on Saturday, losing to No. 54 Michigan 4-3.

The No. 3 duo of Matt Christian and Adam Schaechterle battled to win 8-6 and clinch the doubles point, but Michigan (13-8, 4-6) came out strong in singles. Christian Tempke was shut out for the first time this season at the No. 2 spot, and Willy Lock and Adam Schaechterle fell next, giving the Wolverines a 3-1 lead.

Tommy Hanus gave the team hope with a 6-4, 6-4 win. But at match point in a close second set at the No. 5 spot, Matt Christian returned a volley into the net, clinching the match for Michigan.

“We were in trouble from the very beginning of singles,” Torricelli said. “You’ve got to give Michigan a lot of credit. They came out fired up in singles and got on top of us, and we fought back, but it was too little too late.”

The Cats already had lost, but Chuck Perrin finished off the match with a win at the No. 3 spot.

“I knew I would feel a lot better walking off the court with a win,” Perrin said.

The players said the loss was one of the most disappointing of the season.

“I think it’s a team we should’ve beat,” Tommy Hanus said. “We didn’t get too good of a start in the beginning of the singles. It seems like kind of a letdown.”

The Cats’ flat play continued in a 5-2 loss Sunday to No. 57 Michigan State.

Tommy Hanus and Christian Tempke won their second doubles match of the weekend, but NU lost the doubles point, struggling to 8-6 losses at the No. 1 and No. 3 spots.

“The doubles point was the key,” Torricelli said. “I believe it made the difference in the match.”

Wahla’s sprained ankle put the Cats down another point and, as far as Torricelli was concerned, ended the match.

Only Perrin and Tempke put NU on the scoreboard. Perrin said he was surprised when he stepped off the court at the end of his singles match and saw how badly his team was losing to the Spartans (16-12, 3-7).

“I tried to concentrate on my match, because the day before, I was really worried about everybody else’s match,” he said. “I don’t think these matches were a good indicator of how the rest of the season was going.”

Despite their losses, the Cats are looking forward to Friday, when they will take on Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. NU earned a first-round bye despite its losing weekend, and finished fourth in the Big Ten.

“After the match, we were down, but we talked and realized that it was the toughest weekend of the year,” Wahla said. “We also realized we have to play a big tournament on Friday. I think we’re all mature enough to put it behind us and concentrate on the weekend.”