NU seeks to down Valpo in tourney

David Kalan

Women’s Tennis

Valparaiso, a school in northern Indiana, is more famous for a single basketball game in 1985 than for its tennis.

“To be honest,” said No. 21 Cristelle Grier, “we don’t know anything about them.”

But the Crusaders (15-4) will be facing the No. 6 team at 2 p.m. today as the Wildcats (24-2) begin their run toward a national championship.

Valparaiso is in unusual territory, making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. Despite the team’s inexperience, it is coming off its first Mid-Continent Conference title. The Crusaders have won 12 straight matches and feature three singles players with first-team all-conference honors.

Not to be outdone, the Cats also boast a trio of first-team all-conference singles players in No. 4 Audra Cohen, Grier, and No. 76 Alexis Prousis. NU, which enters the tournament as the fifth seed, is hosting the regional championships for the fifth straight year.

While the Cats won a seventh consecutive conference title, their doubles play was shaky as Cohen and Grier, the nation’s No. 2 tandem, lost consecutive matches. NU also lost the doubles point for the first time against a Big Ten foe this season. Getting back on track has been a priority.

“We’ve got a very specific game plan,” Grier said of her doubles play. “Audra dominates it from the back, and then me coming in and trying to take advantage of her heavy ground stroke and closing out the point pretty quickly from the net. We’ve just been concentrating on Audra really making that forehand of hers, and me just trying to be more dynamic at the net, crossing and maybe taking a few more chances than I usually would do.”

The Cats will also look to get past the round of 16 in this year’s tournament for the first time ever.

“We’ve seen the draw and it looks pretty good,” Kristi Roemer said. “We know who it is we’re going to play, and so it looks like we have a pretty good chance. I think everyone is just looking to go out there and kick some ass.”

If the Cats defeat Valparaiso they will face Notre Dame or Iowa at noon Saturday. Those teams play at 10 a.m. today. The winner of Saturday’s match will head to Athens, Ga., for the NCAA championships.

“I want revenge on the No. 2 team for Notre Dame,” said Roemer, who lost her doubles match with Prousis against the Irish earlier this season. “I don’t even remember Iowa’s, but losing to Notre Dame really hit me in the wrong spot.”

A rematch with Notre Dame would also likely pit Cohen and Grier against Christian and Catrina Thompson. The Thompsons, currently the No. 6-ranked duo in the country, played Cohen and Grier closely last month before the Cats’ then-No. 1 tandem pulled away.

On Wednesday the team won five of the seven ITA Midwest Regional awards. Pollard won coach of the year, while assistant coach Leigh Weinraub, Cohen, Grier and Prousis were also honored. It is the third time Pollard has won the award.

“My players make me look awfully good,” Pollard said. “I think that’s the best thing you can do as a coach, is do your thing and then get out of the way and let your players shine.”

For the next ten days, Pollard is hoping her players will continue to make her look good all the way to Athens.

Reach David Kalan at [email protected]