Women’s Tennis: Northwestern looks for consistency in doubles play

Ava Wallace

Coming off a winning weekend during which Northwestern had Big Ten victories over Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Wildcats will hit the road Wednesday for their third away match in a row and battle one of their non-conference rivals, Notre Dame.

The Cats lead the all-time series against the Fighting Irish 26-11, including two wins in 2011, but No. 18 Notre Dame (14-5) has scored the doubles point in their last 10 matches, giving the No. 15 NU (10-7, 4-1 Big Ten) reason to worry. Doubles play has been NU’s kryptonite throughout the season as the Cats have won only five doubles points in 14 matches since the beginning of February. Coach Claire Pollard continues to switch her doubles lineup around in an attempt to find stability. Standing in the Cats’ way will be the tandem of Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews, the No. 5 doubles team in the country.

“I really praise the girls for the effort they’re giving; we just haven’t been able to come up with a winning formula yet,” Pollard said. “It has a little bit to do with the way we play — we’re not stingy enough.”

While NU easily took the doubles point against Wisconsin on Sunday, the Cats lost a hard-fought doubles point against Minnesota on Friday. Sophomores Nida Hamilton and Veronica Corning played the decisive match while occupying the No. 1 doubles spot and eventually lost in a nail-biting tiebreaker, 9-8 (3).

Pollard said that despite the loss, Friday’s close doubles contest was beneficial to her players’ confidence, and she is optimistic about continuing to experiment with pairings.

“Minnesota was close and the fact that we didn’t get smashed helped a little bit,” she said. “The good thing is that we have a lot of options, and the bad thing is that we haven’t been able to get something stable.”

The Cats are in the middle of a five-match road trip which will end Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., against Michigan.

Senior Stacey Lee said being away from NU’s home court this much has been taxing for the team, though the traveling plays an important role in helping the team grow closer.

“For the most part we’re pretty used to the grind,” Lee said. “It does get tiring, but it actually helps a lot because it’s been a great way for us to bond and wwe’ve just had a ton of fun.”

The Cats are also set to play their second consecutive match outdoors Wednesday against the Fighting Irish, which Hamilton said provided an extra challenge when they played against the Badgers earlier this season .

“It’s a completely different atmosphere outside. Wisconsin was pretty chilly, and it was kind of dead out there,” she said. “We had to try to create our own energy because we weren’t getting it from anywhere else.”

Because of the travel and the importance of the Notre Dame match, which Hamilton called “a good rivalry,” Pollard said the team will focus on health leading up to Wednesday afternoon.

Pollard plans to work on specific, individual skills for each player during practice this week in addition to seeing that her team rests up. And of course she said she wants to work on doubles play and keep the team’s momentum from Sunday’s victory alive.

“We’re slowly getting better, we keep trying our best,” Pollard said. “Hopefully we’re going to find the key that will unlock all of the talent that we have.”

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