Another season is underway, and the perennial powerhouse Wildcats look as sharp as ever.
In their first meets of the season, Northwestern topped Arkansas 5-2 on Saturday and Purdue 4-2 on Sunday to qualify for the main draw of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships.
After little difficulty with Arkansas, NU needed to fight for its victory over the Boilermakers. The Cats lost the doubles point to Purdue and struggled early on in singles before collectively improving in time to win the meet. Coach Claire Pollard said she’s “never satisfied,” but was pleased with her team’s play over the weekend.
“Doubles is an area that we’re still working hard on. I don’t think we’ve got it quite right yet,” she said. “In singles, Purdue did a good job coming out, and it just took us a while. We made really big adjustments on a few courts and were able to turn the match around.”
The No. 14 Cats will now venture to Nashville to face Vanderbilt (2-0), ranked 21st in the country.
The Commodores also qualified for the ITA main draw, defeating No. 31 Illinois on Jan. 27 and No. 24 Yale on Jan 28. The Cats are 3-2 all-time against Vanderbilt after winning 5-2 to open last season.
“They’re going to be a tough team,” said senior Kate Turvy, NU’s only ranked player, at 67th in the country. “We always have a really good match with them. It’s competitive, so I just expect more of the same.”
More of the same for NU usually means success.
The Cats have captured 12 Big Ten regular season titles in Pollard’s 14 seasons as coach and before last year had won 13 Big Ten Tournaments in a row. Under Pollard, NU has never lost more than two conference games or finished the season with a team ranking outside the top 25. Last year’s squad fell in the round of 16 and ended up ranked 12th in the country.
This year, with most of the team returning, the players say they expect more of the same, if not better.
“We’re going to be really tough this year,” junior Veronica Corning said. “Everyone’s working really hard. We’re fighting a lot harder this year. I think we’ve all prepared and are ready to do some damage.”
Turvy says she agrees.
“We have the capability of being a really really good team this year,” the senior said. “We’re older this year, so we have a lot of experience. Without injuries I think we can be a better team than we were last year and hopefully the best team that we’ve been since I’ve been at Northwestern.”
But before the Cats think about eclipsing their predecessors, they’ll have to think about outdoing Vanderbilt on Thursday. The Commodores feature three ranked singles, led by No. 91 Marie Casares.
“We play against really great teams all the time, so we need to be patient with ourselves,” Pollard said. “We’ll need to show some resilience, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would the team.”