Wildcats’ road to Athens goes through Broncos (Women’s Tennis)

Brian Regan

By Brian Regan

The Daily Northwestern

A year after making it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, No. 5 Northwestern is looking to build on that success, even having alumni from last year’s team take part in practice Thursday.

“We’ve kind of been preparing all year for the NCAAs, and it’s been part of our team’s motivation all year,” sophomore Georgia Rose said. “We did a good job at Big Tens and had a week of rest and a few good days of practice.”

The Wildcats (21-4) earned a program-best fifth seed in this year’s tournament and open against unseeded Western Michigan, one of three teams NU is hosting in the first and second rounds this weekend.

The Broncos (22-6) received an automatic bid by winning the Mid American Conference and are in the midst of a 12-match winning streak. Five of their six losses were to top-30 opponents from the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences.

“Obviously if you make the tournament you had a good year,” Rose said. “Western Michigan had a good year and we have to do what we do best. If we do that, we should be OK.”

NU has put together a streak of its own without having lost since playing California during its Hawaii training trip more than six weeks ago. The streak includes wins over then-No. 2 Notre Dame and then-No. 13 William & Mary.

Since winning their ninth-straight Big Ten crown on April 29, the Cats rested for a few days and then began to intensify their practices by doing more fitness and conditioning and simulating tournament-caliber tennis.

“We’ve been practicing hard this week,” coach Claire Pollard said. “But this group stays pretty loose and relaxed, which is a comment I heard about us in the Big Ten final against Michigan.”

If the Cats win in the first round, they could face Big Ten foe Indiana, which plays Boise State on Saturday. The Cats beat the Hoosiers 5-2 on April 8 in the only time NU lost the doubles point during conference play.

With two wins this weekend, the Cats would go on to Athens, Ga., for the rest of the tournament, which includes the winners of the 15 other regional tournaments being held this weekend and starts on May 19.

Being able to host the first two rounds provides an extra boost to NU’s only senior Alexis Prousis, playing in the final matches of her NU career.

“I’m planning on having fun and enjoying it,” Prousis said. “There is a little more urgency in the NCAAs that I’m sure the crowd realizes.”

That urgency has been drilled into the minds of NU’s four tournament rookies: Lauren Lui, Suzie Matzenauer, Samantha Murray and Jen Taylor.

But they have a core of experienced veterans to lean on in Prousis, Rose, Nazlie Ghazal and Keri Robison, who reached the semifinals with Florida last season.

“The rest of the team is feeding off (the veterans’) energy and excitement,” Prousis said. “They have nothing to worry about and hopefully I’ve done a good job helping them get better and stay focused in the next couple of weeks.”

Reach Brian Regan at [email protected]