Women’s Tennis: Northwestern heads West to meet Iowa, Nebraska

Alex Putterman, Reporter

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After Northwestern’s performance in a 5-2 victory against Illinois last weekend, the team’s coach said she was worried about the future.

“I felt like we were a little better than Illinois,” Claire Pollard said. “But that’s just not going to be good enough. It’s not going to be good enough next weekend. It’s not going to be good enough for us to really achieve and over-achieve as the year goes on.”

The No. 8 Cats (7-4, 1-0) will venture to Iowa City, Iowa, on Friday to take on the Hawkeyes (5-4, 0-1), then visit Lincoln, Neb., on Sunday to play the Cornhuskers (13-1, 1-0).

Iowa will be the first unranked team the Wildcats face in 2013 after meeting top-40 foes in each of their first 11 meets. NU is 38-2 all-time against Iowa, has never lost to the Hawkeyes under coach Claire Pollard and has not allowed Iowa more than one point since 2007, outscoring them 33-3 during the last five years. 

The Nebraska meet is likely what Pollard was referring to when she worried about the aforementioned “next weekend.”

The Cornhuskers are the Big Ten’s second-highest ranked team and have lost only once in 2013. They have won eight consecutive meets, including their last five in 7-0 shutouts, although none of those blowouts have come against top-30 teams. Nebraska is 7-1 on the season against ranked opponents. Its only loss of the season came on Feb. 8 to Miami, a team the Cats beat two days later.

NU is 4-3 all-time against Nebraska, including 3-1 through the last three seasons. In 2012, the Cats split a pair of dual meets against the Huskers, winning 4-3 on Jan. 29 but losing 5-2 on March 25. 

Sunday’s meet will be crucial for NU. In order to win the Big Ten, a goal and expectation every year, Pollard says her team can hardly afford to lose even one Big Ten dual meet.

“History has shown over the last few years, to win the conference you really can’t afford a loss,” she said. “If you lose you’re sharing probably, and that might not even be good enough this year with how well some of the teams are playing and how good our league is.”

Pollard said she was disappointed in NU’s performance against Illinois despite the final result. According to the coach, the doubles point, which the Cats won, was closer than it should have been, and singles could have also been better. Freshman Alicia Barnett, who won both her doubles and singles matches, agreed with Pollard’s assessment of the team’s effort.

“Our energy wasn’t as good as it has been in the bigger matches,” Barnett said. “We can play a lot better than we did. We kind of played down to their level a bit.”

NU will need to avoid similar lack of intensity against Iowa, then elevate its game further two days later against Nebraska. The team will likely be prepared.

“We just need to keep our concentration on improving the stuff we didn’t do as well this weekend,” Barnett said after the Illinois meet. “For the next few days, practice will be really big.”