Women’s tennis: Northwestern’s quest for No. 14 starts at home court

Chris Johnson

Northwestern begins its 2012 season Friday when they welcome DePaul, UIC and No. 65 USC for the annual Wildcat Spring Invitational at Combe Tennis Center.

The Wildcats are coming off a successful fall campaign and go into this season having won 13 consecutive Big Ten titles. One of the main questions for coach Claire Pollard’s team in 2012 will be how they respond to losing Maria Mosolova, the four-time NCAA singles All-American who finished with a career mark of 143-35.

“You can’t replace a Maria,” Pollard said. “You don’t try to replace her. You just enjoy her while she’s here. We have some players that are going to play some really big roles this year, and hopefully we’ll see a new Maria emerge-whoever that may be.”

A likely candidate is Kate Turvy, who was named an All-Big Ten honoree for her impressive play last season. The junior enters this season as the 26th ranked singles player in the nation, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

“She really had a great fall,” Pollard said. “I think of her as the unsung hero of the team. She plays a really unique game. The way she runs down so many balls, it can be infuriating. But I think she’s really going to step up and play a huge role for us.”

Joining Turvy in the preseason rankings is the Cats’ top doubles team. Junior Linda Abu Mushrefova and sophomore Nida Hamilton carry a No. 6 ranking into this weekend’s tournament. The pair received All-American honors last season after reaching the quarterfinals of the NCAA doubles championship. They continued to impress this fall, reaching the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships in November.

“Me and Nida definitely feel more comfortable around each other this year,” Abu Mushrefova said. “As a partnership, a year’s worth of experience can really do a lot for you. I think we’re going to build on that comfort between us and continue to improve.”

Despite the loss of Mosolova, NU’s roster remains mostly intact. Anna Livadaru is the Cats’ only freshman, but they welcome another new face in 2012. Sophomore Veronica Corning joins the No. 12 Cats after helping Boston College achieve its highest ranking (No. 33) in program history. Corning posted 10 wins in singles competition and six wins in top doubles competition last year.

“She’s going to make an impact right away,” Turvy said. “She’s been doing a great job of pushing us in practice. Even though she really just got here, I definitely see her making a huge impact this year.”

This weekend will be the Cats’ first step toward winning a 14th consecutive Big Ten title. Despite the expectations for continued success, Abu Mushrefova said that her team does not feel any added pressure.

“You definitely know that the streak is there,” Abu Mushrefova said. “It’s 13 in a row and you can’t ignore that. But that’s not what we’re focusing on right now. We just want to get out there and play someone other than ourselves.”

NU last faced real competition over three months ago, when they traveled to Tempe, Ariz., for the 17th annual Thunderbird Invitational. Turvy and junior Brittany Wowchuk were the only two Cats to play on the tournament’s final day.

“They’re just anxious to get out there and compete,” Pollard said. “We just need to get out there and remember how to construct a point, remember how to deal with the ups and downs and most importantly, see some new faces. As much as you can try and simulate it in practice, you don’t get that same feeling until you start facing other teams.”

The Wildcat Spring Invitational will serve as a tune-up for NU, who hosts No. 26 Vanderbilt less than one week later.

“I just need to see them,” Pollard said. “I just need to see where we’re at and what we need. Motivation is never a problem for this program. We just need to make sure we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves.”

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