Men’s Tennis: Wildcats carry momentum into Big Ten season, matchup with Fighting Illini

Abbey Chase, Reporter

For the second year in a row, Northwestern will head into its conference season with a surge of momentum in its favor. The Wildcats have stormed through the first part of their season but the real test will begin on Saturday with the start of their Big Ten schedule.

NU will be given little time to settle into conference play, taking on Illinois, the second highest ranked team in the Big Ten, on the road. Ranked No. 17, the Fighting Illini have gotten the best of the Cats for the last 16 years, with NU’s last win coming in 1997, a season in which the Cats did not lose a conference match. 

But NU can head to Champaign, Ill., with a strong non-conference season showing to back it up. In the new ITA rankings released Tuesday, the Cats made a huge leap, jumping 21 spots to land at No. 20. NU is now the third-highest ranked team in the Big Ten, passing Michigan and Indiana for the first time this season. 

The Cats squared off against Illinois at home last season and made the Fighting Illini work for it in front of a packed crowd. NU fought from behind in all three doubles matches to give its top-20 opponent a competitive contest. The Cats would go on to surrender the doubles point, but wins by junior Raleigh Smith and an upset by senior Spencer Wolf of then-No. 21 Roy Kalmanovich helped keep NU in the match before falling 5-2. 

After taking on Illinois, the Cats will face off against Nebraska the subsequent weekend for the first time on their home courts, followed by a double-header the next day featuring Iowa and Western Illinois.