On the road again, the Wildcats bounced back from a loss to Notre Dame, taking out Middle Tennessee State 6-1 Friday before falling in a close match to Vanderbilt 4-3 Sunday.
Northwestern opened its campaign against the Blue Raiders with a sweep in doubles. Sophomore Raleigh Smith and freshman Alex Pasareanu continued to be an effective team, winning their sixth match together and securing the doubles point for Northwestern after juniors Chris Jackman and Sidarth Balaji won their doubles match.
“We’ve pretty much been playing doubles since the week (Pasareanu) got here,” Smith said. “Our games work well together. We feel like we’ve been playing doubles for a long time and that chemistry has translated into some success so far.”
On the singles court, routine wins by Smith and junior Spencer Wolf gave the Cats the lead, and senior Josh Graves ensured NU’s victory with a tight 6-4, 7-6(8) win over Matthew Langley at the No. 2 position.
Sunday featured the Cats against a much tougher opponent, a Vanderbilt team ranked 43rd nationally.
“We knew the doubles point was going to be important. Obviously playing a good SEC team away, I thought if we won the doubles point that would give us the momentum,” coach Arvid Swan said. “I knew that it was going to be very competitive in singles. We just tried to give ourselves a chance, and I think we did by winning the doubles and playing as hard as we could in singles.”
As they have in all but one of their matches this season, the team scored the first point, winning the No. 2 and 3 doubles matches to go up 1-0. Returning to the court for only the second time this season, Jackman partnered with Balaji to win the critical third doubles match in a very tight 9-8 contest.
“(Jackman) served really well in both matches, his concentration level and his focus was good, and he and Sid performed well under pressure at Vandy,” Swan said of Jackman’s return. “Against Middle Tennessee they kind of dominated play, but against Vanderbilt it was a close match, and I thought they did a really nice job of coming through in the clutch.”
On the singles court, Graves and Balaji both fell in two sets at the No. 1 and 2 positions, while Pasareanu evened the score at 2-2 after his 6-3, 6-0 win over Joe Dorn.
Wolf scored another quality win at the No. 3 position while Smith lost his first singles match of the season, succumbing in a tough three set match 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Anton Kovrigin.
“(Kovrigin) played well,” Smith said. “I’ll give him all the credit. … He ended up pulling away late in the first set after I’d had some chances. In the second set, I got off to an early lead and never looked back from there, and I was able to close it out with a lot of the help from my teammates. I always thought I was going to come back (in the third set), but he played well and he came up with the big points, so hats off to him.”
With the match level at 3-3, freshman Nikhil Jayashankar fell in two sets, coming up short against Jeff Offerdahl 6-4, 6-3.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Vanderbilt,” Swan said. “They’re a team that I think at the end of the year is going to be a top-25 team and they did a good job at the conclusion of the match. We did a lot of good things in the match in the doubles and even in the singles, and we just have to learn from it.”