Men’s Tennis: Wolf, Cats learning to unleash beast mode

Sarah Kuta and Sarah Kuta

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Spencer Wolf is no football player.

At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he doesn’t have the build of Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch. Instead of a pigskin, Wolf holds a racket. He does most of his running between the net and the baseline.

But he has adopted Lynch’s football attitude-play every match in “beast mode.”

Lynch coined the mentality while playing for California, claiming that once he stepped onto the field, he became an uncontainable, uncontrollable force. Wolf and the Wildcats have adapted this mentality to their own game.

“(Lynch’s) attitude towards everything is considered beast mode,” Wolf said. “It’s an analogy to try to have controlled aggression, and to get really, really pumped up and focused.”

With just two matches remaining in the regular season, Northwestern will need as much “beast mode” as possible. Sitting solidly at the bottom of the Big Ten with one conference win and a .125 conference winning percentage, NU will host second-ranked Ohio State (27-1, 8-0) and Penn State (14-9, 2-6) this weekend.

Coach Arvid Swan said he realizes the challenge the Cats have ahead of them. With their losses behind them, Swan said that when it comes to playing the Buckeyes, it’s all about mindset.

“We have been struggling a bit as of late, but we just have to play attacking,” Swan said. “We have to come at the guys and you have to believe that you can beat a team of that caliber.”

Wolf, a former American-Canadian Judo National Champion, leads the team with 11 singles victories. Last weekend, Wolf and sophomore Josh Graves won No. 1 doubles at both Minnesota and Iowa. Wolf also defeated Minnesota’s Rok Bonin at No. 3 singles.This weekend, Wolf will most likely play Ohio State’s No. 26 senior Justin Kronauge. For the freshman, both Ohio State and Kronauge’s rankings are unimportant.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ve never heard of him,” Wolf said. “I haven’t followed any of his rankings. I don’t really know anything about the kid. I’m just trying to focus on what I can control and the rest is not up to me.”

With the Buckeyes’ only team loss coming from No. 1 Virginia earlier this year, Wolf said he thinks now is the best time to play such a highly touted team.

“They’re really high in the country, it’s late in the season,” he said. “They’re probably thinking that we’re not as good as we used to be or whatever, and I think now is the time for the upset.”

After Wolf’s three solid victories on the road last weekend, Swan said he hopes the freshman will be able to match Kronauge’s high level of play.

Earlier in the season, Wolf played at No. 2 singles against Eastern Michigan. Though the Buckeyes will bring an entirely different caliber of game, Swan said Wolf’s experience at a higher spot in the lineup will be useful.

“He’s done a really good job in terms of playing in a high spot as a freshman, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do,” Swan said. “He’s got a big game and he controls play. He plays a power game in singles.”

That same controlled power is what has allowed him to be such a steady force in doubles play. Wolf and Graves have won four of their last five matches together.

“He’s very even-tempered while he’s playing, which allows him to be really solid,” freshman Mark Schanerman said. “He has a good chance of winning all the time. There’s never any doubt that he can win a match.”

As the season winds down with Ohio State and Penn State, Wolf and the Cats have no plans to let down on their beast mode mentality.

“We’re trying to move forward,” Wolf said. “It’s all about staying calm when things get out of control.”