Northwestern may have opened its season with a tough opponent in a hostile environment, but by the end of the weekend the Wildcats were feeling quite triumphant.
In its opening weekend of dual meet play, NU secured victories against Boise State, William & Mary and Chicago State to race out to a 3-0 start. The former occurred on Friday night in Boise, Idaho, and the latter two were home affairs Sunday.
The first of the three matches was certainly the stiffest test. The No. 32 Cats were up against the No. 46 Broncos at the Boise Racquet & Swim Club, an arena that, as usual, held plenty of the Boise State faithful Friday night. Still, NU took to the fight with vigor and defeated the Broncos 5-2.
“It was a good win for our team,” coach Arvid Swan said. “It was our first match of the year, not easy to play Boise at Boise. They are a quality team with a great head coach, so it was a good win for us.”
After a pair of tiebreakers gave the Broncos a hotly contested doubles point to hold a 1-0 lead, the Cats struck back at the home squad in singles. Strong Kirchheimer, one of the team’s star freshmen, breezed through his match 6-0, 6-2 to knot things up at 1-1, and a split in the next two contests moved the competition to 2-2.
The turning point was between each team’s No. 1. On their end, the Broncos boasted Andy Bettles, the 54th-ranked singles player in the country. NU brought in senior Raleigh Smith, a stalwart player in his own right, but one who was unranked and didn’t make it onto the court in the fall due to injury.
Boise State seemed to have the upper hand. But rest and full health did Smith wonders, as he beat his decorated opponent in straight sets, 6-5, 6-3, to put the Cats back in charge.
“It was a great start to the season for (Raleigh),” Swan said. “He’s our leader, and he played very solid tennis for us. I was pleased to see him out there and so was the team. He was the key for us.”
Up 3-2, NU closed out the match with a pair of of wins from freshmen Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba.
Following the opening fireworks, the Cats pressed on. With the potential for a letdown at home, NU kept its competitive energy high. Against William & Mary, the team captured the doubles point and once again pounced in the singles portion. NU won the first three matches in that section, at which point the remainder of the contests were called, and the Cats were awarded a 4-0 victory.
NU’s battle against Chicago State was just as lopsided. The Cats won the doubles point and the first three singles. At the time the proceedings were halted giving the Cats another 4-0 triumph, the other three matches were firmly in their hands, with one player up 6-1, 5-1 and another ahead 6-1, 4-1.
Despite the weekend success, Swan said his team could play with more aggression in future matches. Kirchheimer, a newcomer, said he felt the Boise State experience gave the freshmen a taste of what is to come.
“We were all a little nervous in the doubles point against Boise, but we did a great job of handling the adversity in a hostile environment,” Kirchheimer said. “None of us had seen an environment like that. It was good initiation for us to be introduced to something like that that we’ll see in a lot of Big Ten dual matches.”
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