Cats To Take On Spartans In Rematch (Men’s Tennis)

Pritish Behuria

By Pritish BehuriaThe Daily Northwestern

One player could make the difference between Northwestern’s dominant 5-2 win over Michigan State last weekend and its rematch against the Spartans in the first round of the Big Ten Championship today in West Lafayette, Ind.

Junior Nick Rinks has been the Spartans’ standout player this season, with a 15-7 mark in singles action, including a 6-2 record in the Big Ten.

He has beaten some of the country’s top singles players on his way to reaching No. 63 in the national rankings. Wins against Old Dominion’s No. 26 Harel Srugo and Michigan’s No. 49 Matko Maravic were key moments in Rinks’ rise up the rankings.

But he did not play the last time NU (9-13, 4-6 Big Ten) squared off against Michigan State (11-15, 2-8).

Coach Paul Torricelli said Rinks is one of the best players in the region, and that his absence forced the Spartans into rotating their lineup.

“It’s going to be a completely different match,” NU coach Paul Torricelli said. “We’ve got to have a short memory about last weekend’s win and we’ll be playing a totally different team (today).”

Torricelli said senior Willy Lock likely will face off against Rinks. Lock is the only singles player in the Wildcats’ lineup with a winning record this season, at 16-13. He has also won three straight matches, raising his Big Ten record to 6-4.

“Willy plays hard every time,” Torricelli said. “He’s been playing well the whole season. And streaks can sometimes come down to who you’re playing and when you’re playing them.”

In doubles, NU will look to continue the success it had against Michigan State last weekend, when the Cats took all three matches. Lock will team up with fellow senior Matt Christian. The duo has won its last two matches, playing as NU’s No. 2 doubles pair.

The team’s third senior, Christian Tempke, has notched four consecutive doubles victories with his partner, junior Juan Gomez.

Those recent performances have been a bright spot in a season that has seen the Cats lose their most dual matches in a season since 1991. But NU has played 7 of the top 21 teams in the country this season.

“Any time you get a win, it’s great,” Torricelli said. “If you go through the rankings though and highlight the teams we played, we’ve probably had tougher schedules than most and it’s impressive.”

The eighth-seeded Cats have won two straight matches, following a four-match losing streak, lifting the team’s confidence going into the tournament.

Despite the recent success and the ninth-seeded Spartans’ two-match losing skid, Torricelli said his team would not be taking Michigan State lightly.

“All I’m thinking about right now is Michigan State,” Torricelli said. “I try not to get ahead of myself and we’ll take it one step at a time.”

If the Cats follow up their recently improved play with a victory against the Spartans, top-seeded Ohio State awaits them in the quarterfinals. The Buckeyes have a first-round bye.

Ohio State, the No. 3 team in the nation, has a 10-0 record in conference play and blanked NU 7-0 earlier this season. The Cats failed to win a single set in that match.

“They’re a great team and have done really well,” Torricelli said. “They’ve been unbeaten and barely lost any singles or doubles matches this season.”

Reach Pritish Behuria at [email protected]