Women’s Tennis: NU taking nothing for granted in Round of 16

Cleyana Mayweather

Now the excitement begins.

No. 1 Northwestern will take its championship dreams to Tulsa, Okla., after dominating wins over the University of Illinois-Chicago and Indiana in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at home.

The round of 16 is the next step for the Wildcats in capturing their first NCAA championship. NU will face off against No. 16 Fresno State, who defeated Arizona State in the second round, 4-1.

This is not the first time the Cats have matched up against the Bulldogs this season. Earlier in the year at the ITA National Team Indoors in Madison, Wis., NU defeated Fresno State, 4-1. The only point that the Cats surrendered was the doubles point. They lost both at No. 1 and No. 2 in close matches.

Since its meeting with Fresno State, NU has only lost the doubles point three times. The Cats won two of those three matches, with their only loss of the season coming to defending national champion Georgia Tech, 4-3.

The team has been able to consistently take the doubles point, getting off to a good start in duals.

“I think the doubles point sets the tone,” coach Claire Pollard said. “But if we are going to win a NCAA championship this year, we are going to have to win it with the doubles point and without it.”

Another thing the Cats will rely on to help win the national title is team depth. NU is strong from top to bottom. The team is a combined 133-19 in singles play this season.

One reason why is the bottom three spots are doing much more than holding their weight. Sophomore Lauren Lui is undefeated at the No. 4 spot. Junior Nazlie Ghazal and sophomore Suzie Matzenauer both have lost only twice in the No. 5 and No. 6 spots.

“We definitely have a great team,” Lui said. “All our lines are really strong. So any day, it can be any line.”

But NU’s secret weapon to winning the tournament may be relaxation. The team does not stress about being the No. 1 seed. The Cats simply enjoy playing tennis.

“We are pretty fun-oriented,” Pollard said. “I think tennis should be enjoyed. I think winning and losing is part of sports, but first of all you play because you love it. You play because you enjoy it.”

Pollard said she believes she has a bunch of “goofballs” on her team. She said the light-hearted mood around the team has worked for the Cats, who have not lost in their last 22 duals.

NU will continue to play to the strengths that gave it a 28-1 record as the competition gets much tougher in Tulsa.

“We can’t look past anyone,” junior Georgia Rose said. “Everyone has had a great year. The top 16 teams have all been fighting for those spots. We are definitely not taking any matches for granted, there because the level is definitely going to be a lot higher.”

The team knows the importance of stepping up its game. As the No. 5 seed in 2007, they were upset in the round of 16 by 12th-seeded UCLA.

“The level is going to go up and we are going to have to bring it up another level ourselves,” Lui said.

Even with all the success, Pollard said she wants the team to remember how they got to Tulsa.

“I think we just have to stick with what we are doing. It’s the time of the year where we have to believe in ourselves and trust ourselves,” Pollard said.

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