Daily file photo by Brian Lee
This weekend marks the first outdoor matches No. 7 Northwestern (4-2) has played this season.
The Wildcats head to the Lone Star State to take on No. 17 Texas (3-4) and No. 18 Baylor (7-1) this weekend. The last time NU faced the Texas twosome, in 2013, the then-No. 9 Cats fell to the then-No. 14 Longhorns 5-2 after a grueling four-and-a-half hour match but trampled the Bears 4-1.
This time around, NU has momentum, coming off a sweet weekend at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Indoor Championships, in which the Cats knocked off then-No. 7 Texas A&M and then-No. 2 Florida.
“Last weekend gave us belief and confidence,” coach Claire Pollard said. “We legitimized ourselves.”
Pollard also believes her team has moved on from last year’s losses.
“They’re different teams. We’re a different team,” Pollard said. “It is going to be a totally different game. I don’t think last year’s performances will affect us at all.”
In last year’s marathon match against Texas, NU tried to battle back and take the singles point after dropping at doubles, but the Longhorns’ stamina outlasted that of the Cats. Texas took five of the first six opening sets in singles play and never took its foot off the gas.
NU whipped Baylor twice last season. In the first matchup, in February, the Cats won handily 4-1 before waltzing by the Bears 4-2 in the NCAA Tournament.
The biggest challenge for the Cats will be playing on outdoor courts, which differ in quality from indoor courts. NU also isn’t used to being subjected to weather, be it sun in players’ eyes or wind. But Pollard said Baylor has also been practicing inside most of this week, so the Bears, at least, will not have as much of an advantage as they otherwise would.
“The (outdoor) conditions create a slower surface and longer game,” Pollard said. “It’s an advantage for them, but we’ve had plenty of indoor preparation. I’ve liked our preparation and how we’ve played.”
The team also mixed up its practice schedule this week to better ready themselves.
“We’ve challenged ourselves this week,” Pollard said. “We changed our mindset a bit as well. Instead of going hard the first few days of practice and taking it easy the last few days, we’ve gone easier to start and are going hard to finish so we’re not tired out when we get (to Texas).”
As always for the Cats, Pollard said the doubles point is immensely important, but one thing NU learned from the ITA weekend is the doubles point is not enough.
“We need a chance at every position from No. 1 to No. 6 singles,” Pollard said. “There will be no free points.”
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