Program on the rise ready to prove itself

ason Prager

Men’s Tennis

When coach Paul Torricelli arrived at Northwestern in 1984, his players couldn’t walk to practice or their matches. His team played at off-campus clubs and didn’t know the luxury of the courts at the Combe Tennis Center and the Vandy Christie Tennis Center.

How things have changed.

Torricelli said along with having some of the best facilities in the nation, his team’s level of competition has increased as well. The Cats (11-11, 6-4 Big Ten) will join some of those elite programs today for the start of this weekend’s Big Ten championship in Champaign, Ill.

“I think everybody’s ready to play,” Torricelli said. “A lot of guys played especially well last Sunday (against Ohio State). The guys are very motivated for Friday.”

NU begins play Friday against Indiana. In their meeting April 2, the Cats lost a close match, 4-3. The Hoosiers took the doubles point after winning two of the three contests, but then the teams split the singles matches.

After dropping the dual match to Indiana, the Cats started to heat up and won five of their last six contests. This was a welcome change for a team that sustained a seven-match road losing streak earlier in the season.

“I thought the schedule would turn to our favor,” Torricelli said. “I would attribute it to the character and experience of the guys on the team.”

Torricelli said younger, inexperienced players often become mentally and physically fatigued toward the end of the season. The long schedule can take a toll on newcomers not used to the demands of college tennis.

“It’s a learning experience,” Torricelli said. “We have a very long and intense year. Our schedule spans all three quarters.”

Torricelli also said he and his coaches are looking at re-evaluating how they will train future teams. He said his staff is going to take a close look at the players they recruit.

“We’re going to recruit more internationally,” Torricelli said. “I have no regrets but I learned a lot for the future.”

The Cats will have to use their experience and current momentum to propel them through their bracket. After Indiana awaits the winner of the match between Illinois and the winner of the contest pitting Michigan State against Iowa.

Illinois is the top seed and defending champion of the conference tournament. The Illini have won seven of the last eight conference championships.

Illinois defeated NU in Champaign on April 16 by a 5-2 margin, handing the Cats their last loss of the regular season.

Taking the doubles point by sweeping the three matches, Illinois went on to win four of the six singles contests. NU senior Tommy Hanus had to retire from his match in the third set because of a hip flexor injury.

Torricelli said his team is very excited for the tournament and is ready to play.

“It’s a team sport at this point,” Torricelli said. “They’re really loose and feeling good.”

Reach Jason Prager at [email protected]