For the past 11 seasons the Big Ten Tournament has been a mere pit stop for the Wildcats en route to the NCAA Tournament. But after NU dropped its first conference match since 2004 this season, winning the championship would mean something more: redemption.
“We have an extra hunger this time around,” senior Lauren Lui said. “We are not focusing on the NCAAs right now, we’re focusing on Tens. This is it for us right now.”
For the first time in 11 years the Cats head into the tournament without the distinction of the No. 1 seed. The top spot belongs to No. 4 Michigan, who upset No. 5 NU in February. Since that loss, the Cats have cruised to wins in the rest of their conference matchups but have found difficulty out of the Big Ten. A roadtrip down south saw NU drop a pair of matches to No. 1 Baylor and No. 18 Texas. The Longhorns handed the Cats their only loss to a team outside of the top-10. NU recovered from the losses to finish with wins in its last four matches, including clean sweeps against No. 62 Iowa and Penn State.
“I’m happy that we were able to close out the season this way,” Pollard said. “This program is facing difficulty, and I’ve been hoping this will just make us stronger in the end. Problem is, the end is here now. We’ve got to test that idea.”
NU (18-6, 9-1 Big Ten) will face Ohio State (18-6, 5-5) on Friday after the Buckeyes 4-0 victory over Michigan State.
If NU prevails in its early matches, it will likely face Michigan in the finals. The two teams have squared off in the finals the past five years, and the Cats swept the Wolverines in four of those matchups.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves and assume we’re going to be there,” Pollard said. “We’ve had this good stretch lately, but the girls are going to need to continue to get better if we’re going to see Michigan down the road. If we get that chance, hopefully we can capitalize.”
At No. 13 in the country, junior Maria Mosolova is the highest ranked player in the conference. However Mosolova was upset earlier in the season by Michigan’s Denise Muresan, who defeated Mosolova 6-3, 6-0. The win helped Muresan climb the rankings to her current spot at No. 18.
“I’ve been playing very well lately, and hopefully it shows at the tournament,” Mosolova said. “We all want this really bad, so that’s going to help get us through the matches.”
NU will also get a chance to show off its revamped doubles lineup. Senior Samantha Murray and freshman Kate Turvy will look to defend their 11-1 record at No. 3 doubles. Mosolova’s pairing with sophomore Elena Chernyakova at the No. 2 spot has also been successful this season, yielding a 4-0 record. Rounding out the doubles lineup is Lui and freshman Linda Abu Mushrefova at No. 1.
“This weekend will be the test of what we do with this season’s lessons,” Pollard said. “We have a good shot.”[email protected]