Men’s Tennis: Northwestern tries to bounce back against Middle Tennessee and Vanderbilt

Rebecca Friedman

Northwestern ventures to Nashville, Tenn., this weekend, hoping to play with the same composure and success that it did on the road against Alabama earlier this season.

The No. 64 Wildcats (5-1) face off against Middle Tennessee State on Friday and No. 43 Vanderbilt on Saturday. NU has a 3-0 advantage over Middle Tennessee all-time, while Vanderbilt bested Northwestern 4-3 last season.

“We play them every year,” coach Arvid Swan said of the Blue Raiders and the Commodores. “They are both very good quality teams. We’re going to have to play at a very high level to win.”

According to sophomore Raleigh Smith, a big key for the Cats’ success is winning their doubles matches.

“It’s going to be really important for us to get the doubles point. We’re undefeated this year when we get the point and 0-1 when we didn’t get it,” he said. “We’re going to be focused from the start.”

NU suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday, falling 5-2 to No. 30 Notre Dame. The Cats didn’t get off to the best of starts, as they got swept in doubles, and were unable to overcome the deficit in their singles matches.

Despite the loss, Swan said he doesn’t plan to make any alterations to his lineup.

“I’ve got 10 good players and they can all play in different positions. If we make adjustments, then we make adjustments,” he said. “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I’ve got a good team and with the lineup that we have, we’re 5-1.”

One obstacle that the Cats will have to overcome is the four-court facility that they will play in against Middle Tennessee. NU typically plays on a six-court facility, which allows all six singles matches to occur at once. With only four courts, two singles matches will have to wait until other matches conclude to begin play.

Both Smith and Swan said it would be a different environment for the team, but that as long as the Cats played their game, it shouldn’t be too much of a distraction.

So far, Vanderbilt hasn’t found the success that NU has this year despite the Commodores’ No. 43 ranking. Vanderbilt has posted a 2-3 record on the season, with one of its two victories coming in a 6-1 win over Middle Tennessee State.

“I know a couple of people on Vanderbilt,” Smith said. “It’s going to be tough in Nashville.”

Middle Tennessee State is 2-2 on the season but a perfect 2-0 at home.

“They have a very good player from England (Ben Davis) and the rest of their lineup is solid,” Swan said.

NU’s loss to Notre Dame marked the first time all season that senior Josh Graves lost a doubles or a singles match, losing both against the Fighting Irish. Graves has been a huge reason for the Cats’ success so far this year and in past years.

“I expect him to go into each match and win, and so does he,” Swan said. “(His record) doesn’t surprise me this year.”

The Cats will be looking to Graves as well as junior Spencer Wolf, the other half of his doubles pairing, to get NU off to a solid start. Smith and freshman Alex Pasareanu both had great performances against Notre Dame – they both won their singles matches for NU’s lone two points – and hope to keep their momentum going into Nashville.

With top 50 teams like Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, NU’s non-conference schedule should prepare the Cats for the tough play of the Big Ten.

“The more tough matches, the better,” Pasareanu said. “Even if we lose, we know what we need to do better.”

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