The Wildcats entered the teeth of the Big Ten schedule last weekend aiming to keep their conference record unblemished as they eye a 13th consecutive Big Ten title.
Despite a decent amount of traveling and difficult conditions, Northwestern looked more than capable of defending their streak.
With another first place finish in the Big Ten on the line, the Cats (11-5, 4-0 Big Ten) traveled to Ohio State (10-8, 3-1) and Penn State (5-11, 0-4), beating the Buckeyes 5-2 on Friday before sweeping the Nittany Lions 7-0 on Sunday to round out the weekend.
NU’s Big Ten rivals were not to be overlooked despite much lower rankings, said senior Maria Mosolova.
“I would say (Penn State and Ohio State are) kind of similar to Wisconsin and Minnesota in terms of how they compete, how good the team is,” Mosolova said.
At their match against the Buckeyes, the Cats managed to take down the No. 73 team in the nation with relative ease despite cold, rainy conditions.
“Friday was tough,” coach Claire Pollard said. “We played outside, it was cold. We played in tough conditions.”
Beginning the day at No. 2 doubles, Mosolova and freshman Belinda Niu led the way for NU all day. After shutting out their opponents 8-0 in their doubles match, the pair carried their success over to their singles matches. Mosolova won her No. 1 singles match 6-3 6-0, while Niu, playing at No. 2 singles, quickly dispatched her opponent 6-1 6-0.
While Mosolova and Niu continued their dominance this season, the rest of the team stepped up as well. At No. 3 singles, sophomore Kate Turvy won her match by a final of 6-2 6-3. At No. 1 doubles, sophomore Linda Abu Mushrefova and freshman Nida Hamilton beat their opponents 8-5. Returning from a wrist injury she sustained on Feb. 19, sophomore Btittany Wowchuck won her No. 3 doubles match 8-3 alongside junior Elena Chernyakova.
While Ohio State put up a fight, the score would not be so close when NU traveled to face Penn State.
Mosolova and Niu continued their stellar performances at the top two singles spots, winning 6-2 6-1 and 6-3 6-2, respectively. Turvy and Wowchuck followed up at No. 3 and No. 4 singles with a pair of victories, winning 6-2 6-1 and 4-3, ret.
At doubles, the Cats were just as strong. Abu Mushrefova and Hamilton took home an 8-4 victory, and Mosolova and Niu wrapped up an 8-4 win.
Despite the win, which leaves Pollard one shy of 300 for her career, the veteran coach believes the team has yet to reach its potential.
“I think we can improve everywhere,” Pollard said. “I thought we played well today but I think this is a team that’s going to improve every match. We need to pinpoint some things that each individual girl needs to work on.”
The next three weeks will be crucial for NU’s if it wants to claim its 13th-straight conference title and make an all-important run at the NCAA Championships. The Cats continue their conference schedule and also face off against a pair of top-25 non-conference opponents.
“We’ll just continue to work on the things we need to work on,” Mosolova said. “Then we have a lot of big matches coming up like Notre Dame and Baylor so we’ll see how that goes.”
NU will play its next six duals at home, hosting No. 19 Notre Dame this Thursday before taking on conference foe Iowa on Saturday.