Men’s Tennis: Young Wildcat squad heads to ITA All-American Championships

Senior+Raleigh+Smith+will+not+compete+this+weekend+in+Tulsa%2C+Okla.%2C+due+to+injury.+Northwestern+will+rely+on+its+freshmen%2C+returning+junior+Alex+Pasareanu+and+sophomore+Mihir+Kumar.

Daily file photo by Melody Song

Senior Raleigh Smith will not compete this weekend in Tulsa, Okla., due to injury. Northwestern will rely on its freshmen, returning junior Alex Pasareanu and sophomore Mihir Kumar.

Axel Boada, Reporter

The Wildcats will travel to the ITA All-American Championships this weekend in Tulsa, Okla., bringing a young squad to the courts to kick off this year’s play.

Junior Alex Pasareanu, sophomore Mihir Kumar and freshmen Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba are slated to take part in the pre-qualifying rounds.

The team is following up a successful spring season in which they finished 22-10 — just one win shy of the school record — and made the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. The squad also began the new year 6-0, with three wins against top-45-ranked opponents. However, the team did struggle in conference play, going 7-6 against Big Ten opponents last spring.

Though the fall tournaments do not carry the same weight as conference matches, coach Arvid Swan sees this weekend as a stepping stone for the team’s development.

“We have a very young and talented team. (The freshmen) just have to get that experience,” Swan said. “We’re kind of starting from zero, so we’re just going to work really hard this fall.”

The team emphasizes the importance of hard work and dedication, two things the freshman class has already adopted into its philosophy, Swan said.

“Intensity is the biggest thing I’ve been learning about here,” Shropshire said. “Every day we’re coming in and practicing for hours on end it seems.”

Zieba said the first couple weeks “have been pretty tough” but that the opportunity to play in the tournament allotted itself as a result of rigorous practice.

The team will have to continue to compensate for its inexperience through its work ethic. First-Team All-Big Ten senior Raleigh Smith — who also won both the singles and doubles Big Ten Indoors Championships last year — remains out of the lineup due to injury.

“It’s too bad Raleigh can’t play, but it’s a really good opportunity for two of our returning players and two freshmen to kind of see where we are at the beginning of the season,” Swan said.

The dynamic of the team’s current lineup also allows Pasareanu to show leadership for the first time as an upperclassman.

“I know we’ve got four freshmen that we need to bring into speed,” Pasareanu said. “If we bring the freshmen along into that same vibe that we had last year, then we’ll do just as good as last (season),” Pasareanu said.

Kumar agrees with his teammate’s sentiment.

“It comes down to the rest of the guys to show the freshmen the path we walked, how to lead and how to be hard workers everyday,” he said.

The learning curve for Shropshire and Zieba — as well as freshmen Alp Horoz and Strong Kirchheimer — won’t be too steep, as the four freshmen netted Northwestern the nation’s eighth-ranked recruiting class.

Kumar said the freshmen will more than make up for Smith’s absence. Despite the pressures of upcoming tournaments, the team’s chemistry keeps the players focused during matches yet relaxed during practice.

“(We’re) a great group of guys, and I’m having a lot of fun here,” Shropshire said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The team hopes that a successful outing in Tulsa will gather momentum moving forward. Through continuous hard work and chemistry, the team may find itself with the school’s best record in history.

“We bring a lot of energy in our matches,” Kumar said. “We’re loud, and we have fun. Those are all things that make you play better.”

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