Women’s Tennis: NU to face tough challenge against No. 7 Baylor

Dan Ryan

To call the Wildcats’ homestand a success to this point would be to put it somewhat modestly. With a come-from-behind victory against powerhouse then-No. 20 Notre Dame, two wins over conference foes Illinois and Iowa, and a milestone 300th win for head coach Claire Pollard, things are looking up for Northwestern.

You’d just have a hard time telling that from talking to Pollard.

“We need to work on our doubles,” Pollard said after the win over Illinois. “And we’ve talked about keeping ourselves in a good place mentally.”

The focus of the week’s practices was on improving the team’s sometimes shaky doubles play. After losing the doubles point against Notre Dame, the Cats needed a tiebreaker victory to secure it against Illinois.

Regardless of their minor shortcomings, NU has gotten hot at the right time. Only two weeks remain until the Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Cats find themselves on a nine-game winning streak, which can largely be attributed to the outstanding play of senior Maria Mosolova. The team’s No. 1 singles player earned her second straight Big Ten Player of the Week award on Tuesday, the ninth such award of her career.

It was also Mosolova that sparked the comeback win over Notre Dame by beating No. 3 ranked Kristy Frelling 6-4 2-6 6-1 in a match that Pollard said showed a lot about the team’s makeup.

“I’ve never questioned the character of the team,” Pollard said. “It was certainly a difficult situation against Notre Dame and I was pleased with how we responded. I think the Notre Dame match really helped reawaken us and hopefully built momentum that will carry on.”

No. 7 Baylor will challenge that momentum, however. The Bears enter Thursday’s contest on an eight-match winning streak of their own, including wins over four top-40 opponents. Last weekend, Baylor crushed No. 38 Nebraska 7-0, winning every match they played.

“Out of the three (remaining home matches), Baylor is the best,” junior Elena Chernyakova said. “We’re going to have to do our best and try our hardest in order to beat them.”

Despite the quality of their upcoming opponent, Pollard hesitated to call Baylor a statement game.

“We’ve played so many great opponents,” Pollard said. “What I think is really nice is that we’re getting this caliber of competition late in the season. Often we’re playing in the Big Ten, as you can see, we’re playing a lot of lowly ranked teams. Especially going into the Michigan match having had that experience against a great Notre Dame team and a great Baylor team, hopefully that will help us prepare for what will be a tough match.”

NU plays its final three home matches of the season this upcoming weekend, hosting Indiana and No. 59 Purdue after Baylor. The team is having a difficult time looking that far ahead, however, and freshman Belinda Niu believes the Cats have something to prove against the Bears.

“I think (it is a statement game),” Niu said. “I’m really excited for it.”

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