Just three matches stand between Northwestern and a possible eighth consecutive Big Ten title, and the Wildcats couldn’t ask to be in a better position.
Currently 7-0 in the Big Ten and the only undefeated team in conference play, NU has set up a lead that will prove difficult for any team to surpass.
“We’re looking forward to these matches,” freshman Georgia Rose said. “We’ve been really solid in doubles, and we’ve been playing outstanding in singles, so hopefully that will keep going.”
It could be said that Rose and senior Cristelle Grier currently lead the team with their consistency at the ones and twos. Rose, after all, continues to tally her consecutive singles wins – snagging a second Hilton Garden Inn Athlete of the Week honor in the process – while No. 8 Grier stands as a true leader for the team, holding three all-time records for NU including most season wins in both singles and doubles.
But a team doesn’t get five straight sweeps and post an undefeated conference record relying on just two players.
According to Rose, the success of this season is due largely in part to the utilization of the roster and the players’ ability to rotate on the court.
“We have a really deep team this year,” Rose said. “Everyone is playing each position extremely well. We had to go through a few changes, but it hasn’t stopped us at all.”
This weekend the Cats look to retain their flawless conference record as they take on Illinois and Purdue, two teams currently ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten standings.
“It’s nice to finish in a rhythm,” Rose said about the team’s leading record and her own streak of victories. “I’m just trying to get a point for the team match by match.”
In the contest against Illinois on Saturday, the Fighting Illini will most likely be searching for any rhythm at all.
At 1-5 in conference play and 6-11 for the season, Illinois is currently at the bottom of the Big Ten.
Last year NU blitzed the Fighting Illini, beating them 7-0 in an outdoor match at home, claiming its ninth Big Ten victory in the process.
“We had nice weather and had a great crowd outside,” Grier said about last year’s match. “We always have great matches against Illinois because they really fight until the end. You have to set your mind to the match because you know they’re never going to back down.”
Illinois sophomore MaCall Harkins lost to Grier 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 singles that year, but said she will be looking to grab her eighth consecutive singles win in Saturday’s match nonetheless.
“Cristelle was really aggressive,” Harkins recalled. “She tried to push me back on the baseline, and she forced me not to play my game, so this time I’ll just have to be aggressive with her, attacking at the net to beat her.”
On Sunday, the Cats will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue for their second match of the weekend.
The match comes exactly one year after their last encounter on April 16, 2005 when the Cats dominated the Boilermakers 6-1 in Evanston.
“They’re a really good striking team,” Grier said about Purdue. “Hopefully we can get them outside. They like hitting it hard and flat, but with the winds that’ll be more difficult for them.”
Pending this weekend’s matches and the following match against Ohio State at home, the Cats could be pursuing an eighth Big Ten Championship title with a perfect conference record.
If this season is any indication of things to come, it is more than likely that the Cats will continue steadily down that road.
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