Men’s Tennis: Wildcats open duals season in Boise

Kevin Casey, Reporter

Following a fall slate that produced mixed results and with a squad overwhelmingly composed of young players, Northwestern heads into the dual-match season as one of the most intriguing teams in the nation.

Certainly the Wildcats have an enormous amount of talent, but questions remain whether they will be able to coalesce and produce an elite operation in the winter.

The first test begins Friday, when NU will travel out west for its initial foray into dual action, taking on No. 46 Boise State at the Boise Racquet & Swim Club, a venue coach Arvid Swan said usually invites significant fanfare. The No. 32 Cats enter the contest with a new-look roster from last year’s squad.

The team graduated three key contributors, Sidarth Balaji, Chris Jackman and Spencer Wolf, last spring. Raleigh Smith, the only remaining senior on the squad, is currently injured. That leaves a line-up composed of two juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen.

Inexperience is latent throughout the squad, and that, along with the team’s shortage of veteran leadership, may fester as issues. But the team isn’t fretting too much.

“We’re definitely missing a couple of seniors from last year, but we still have Raleigh Smith who’s done a pretty good job so far leading us,” freshman Sam Shropshire said. “We’re definitely still doing well in the leadership department.”

Nobody, of course, is doubting the ability of these players. NU’s quartet of freshmen composes the 8th-ranked recruiting class of 2013. One of these newcomers, Strong Kirchheimer, made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Singles Championship in the fall. Shropshire is No. 114 on the Men’s National Singles Rankings.

The upperclassmen have chops too. Junior Alex Pasareanu and sophomore Mihir Kumar combined for a 32-17 record in dual singles matches last season.

Although the  younger guys have more hype, Swan doesn’t plan to discard his veterans.

“(The lineup) is going to be a mix,” he said. “We’re still not entirely sure of the lineup right now, still waiting on a few things. But it’ll definitely be a mix. There’ll be some older guys in the lineup and some freshmen too.”

For Boise State, the path to knocking off NU involves several parts. First, capture the opening doubles point. Swan noted the Broncos are proficient in that area, and the Cats won the doubles point in just two of their last 12 matches last season—albeit with a much different roster.

Second, pounce at the top. Boise State boasts the No. 54 men’s singles player in the country in Andy Bettles and also has Nathan Sereke, who started in the team’s No. 2 spot all of last season.

If the Broncos can win these matches, it will squeeze the Cats’ prospects, something Swan is well aware of.

“They’re really strong at 1 and 2, they’ve got two guys at the top of the lineup that are older guys who have established themselves as two of the best guys in the country,” Swan said. “We’re going to have to play well in all spots, but we’re going to have to be really ready at the top.”

The high ranking is in place, the talent is there and Boise State will be a good indication of how well the Cats can pull their components together. Kirchheimer certainly has no doubts.

“I’m pretty confident in ourselves,” Kirchheimer said. “We’re all very good players. I’m sure we can go out there and do what we’re supposed to do.”