Junior Lauren Lui knows what it is like to be number one.
At Kinkaid High School in Houston, Lui was the top-ranked singles player for all four years of her career. She led the team to three straight conference championships.
Passing on tennis powerhouses at Georgia Tech, Michigan, Notre Dame and Pepperdine, Lui came to Northwestern and, as a freshman, won 12 consecutive singles matches. She surged ahead during the 2007-08 season, recording a team-best 23-1 mark in dual singles matches and earning All-Big Ten honors.
Now, Lui is surrounded by number ones. For the first time in program history, the Wildcats hold the top ranking in the country according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. In addition, Lui’s teammate, sophomore Maria Mosolova, was named the No. 1 singles player in the nation.
Lui said the team is enjoying its view from the top while still focusing on the moment at hand.
“We’re really excited (about being number one),” Lui said. “I think it shows everybody else what we’ve been working for and what we’ve done. We’re just looking to play our best and beat other teams.”
Mosolova, Lui’s partner in doubles matches and a 2008 All-American, has maintained her dominance this season. In the first tournament of the year, Mosolova steamrolled the competition on the way to the championship round at the National Collegiate Tennis Classic in Palm Springs, Calif.
Mosolova faltered midway through the final match, losing the second set to Stanford’s Hilary Barte, but she took care of business in the third, winning 6-2, 6-7 (8), 7-5. It was her first tournament victory as number one.
“Maria really pulled it through,” said Lui, who also played in Palm Springs. “She had us nervous at first for a little while, but she came back and fought hard. She played a great match and deserved the title.”
Keeping up with Mosolova, the rest of the Cats have proven their preseason ranking to be more than a fluke. In its most recent event, NU dismantled No. 34 Tulsa 7-0 and earned a seed at the ITA Indoor Team Championship, which will be held in mid-February at Madison, Wis.
The preseason crown on their heads is just as much of a target on their backs, but Lui anticipates that the Cats will be prepared for the competition.
“There’s definitely pressure because everybody is going to come at us with their best game,” she said. “They have nothing to lose. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but I think we are all ready for it.”
Before next week’s championship, NU will host No. 28 Texas this Sunday at noon at the Combe Tennis Center. Despite the Cats’ recent successes, Lui sees this weekend’s match as an opportunity to tune up for the upcoming tournament.
“We played pretty well, but I feel we have a lot of room to improve, especially in doubles,” she said. “I think we’re just taking it one match at a time. Texas this weekend is going to be a good test.”