Men’s Tennis: Northwestern hopes to relay fast start into Big Ten success

Abbey Chase

Does a road to redemption lie ahead for the Wildcats? After a strong start to the season, Northwestern heads into Big Ten dual matches with a commanding 7-2 record. But a tough conference means the Cats have yet to face their stiffest competition.

It’s been three years since the team qualified for the NCAA Championships, where NU fell in the first round to Wake Forest. For NU’s three seniors, a return to the national tournament during their final season is the ultimate goal.

“I want to be able to enjoy my last season and have fun playing tennis for another two and a half months,” senior Tobias Reitz said. “Reaching (the NCAA tournament) my freshman year was great, but then we missed out the last two years. So that’s our goal for this year as a team, to reach the tournament again.”

Of the 11 other teams in the Big Ten, five are ranked in the top 40 teams nationally, and all but three are in the top 75. Ohio State, currently ranked second, poses the toughest challenge, with Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola coming together to form the No. 1 doubles team in the country.

“The Big Ten is a very competitive conference, and we just need to be ready for the atmosphere that we run across at away matches,” senior Josh Graves said. “Just the competitiveness is very high in the Big Ten, and we need to be ready for that.”

Last year, the team went 2-8 in conference matches, scoring its two wins against Penn State and an Iowa team ranked 57th.

NU has attempted to prepare itself for the strength of the Big Ten, playing four nonconference matches against ranked squads with another against North Carolina State this weekend .

“Our non-conference schedule has been competitive, so that should do a good job of preparing us,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Certainly the possible difference is, because the Big Ten matches are later in the year, is that some of those matches in all likelihood will be outside. Outdoor tennis is a little bit different than playing indoor tennis and you sometimes have to play longer points and let points develop…Just making those adjustments between indoor and outdoor tennis is something that we’re going to have to work on as we approach the Big Ten matches.”

NU has three nonconference matches remaining before it opens its Big Ten season against Illinois at home on March 9.

“I have good memories playing Illinois,” Reitz said. “Even though we haven’t won against them yet in the last three years, it’s always been a very close match, so I look forward to playing them and hopefully finally beating them.”

Currently ranked 18th, Illinois is a team the Cats have had little success against in the past, but a 4-3 loss last year put the Cats within reach of an upset.

“Certainly Illinois, being the in-state rival, is a big match for us and one that we always want to play well in,” Swan said. “They always have an excellent team and … we generally have a great crowd for that match.”

With its first Big Ten match still two weeks away, NU will look to improve on its already impressive season record.

“I think that we are on the right track as a team right now,” Graves said. “It would mean a lot to me to finish with making (the NCAA tournament) and hopefully winning at least a round. That would be a great way to finish.”

Despite the tough competition ahead, the team feels ready.

“We work very hard on the court and in the gym, and we have the attitude to go into those matches knowing that we worked harder than every other team, knowing that we can compete with every other team over the next five hours,” Reitz said. “It’s a very tough conference, but we’re physically and mentally ready at a level to beat them.”

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