Men’s Tennis: Wildcats prepare for daunting weekend trio

Kevin Casey, Reporter

For Northwestern, scheduling highly competitive opponents to keep the squad sharp has been a sticking point. As non-conference play nears its conclusion, the team is not deviating from that philosophy.

The No. 29 Wildcats will embark on an unusual trip this weekend. NU will start its action against No. 24 Harvard in Boston on Friday, then fly back for a doubleheader two days later to face off with No. 27 NC State and Valparaiso at home.

Last time the Cats competed, the team fell behind early to No. 56 Middle Tennessee State before pulling out a 4-3 victory. The Blue Raiders are a solid team, but NU is unlikely to get away with a sluggish start against Harvard or NC State.

Coach Arvid Swan is certain the languid play that characterized the early proceedings at Middle Tennessee State was an aberration.

“We’ve just got to prepare the same way we’ve been preparing for the matches,” Swan said “We’ll respond. I don’t expect we’ll start the same way two matches in a row. We’ll start off better than we did against Middle Tennessee State.”

Swan’s confidence may stem partly from the fact that his squad has found a groove in doubles as of late. The Cats won the opening doubles point convincingly in three consecutive matches leading up to a battle with Notre Dame on Feb. 11, and even the Fighting Irish needed a borderline miraculous rally to defeat NU in doubles.

Of course, the Middle Tennessee State match undid some of that work. The Cats not only lost the doubles point but did so falling 3-6 in both contests.

Mihir Kumar knows what he and partner senior Raleigh Smith must do to move in a better direction.

“We both played not our best,” the sophomore said. “We both came out really sluggish. In doubles in general, a quick start is key. Raleigh and I are both really good at jumping on people early. We need to get back to that, be a little crisper.”

It’ll take more than just a fast start in doubles for NU to pull out a pair of victories, though. Between Harvard and NC State, there are seven players ranked in singles, with the Crimson’s No. 41 Dennis Nguyen and the Wolfpack’s No. 33 Austin Powell.

The Cats have two of their own in No. 81 Sam Shropshire and No. 111 Smith. The latter has won his last four singles contests.

Although the Crimson have a 2-8 record in their Nos. 2 and 3 singles spots and the Wolfpack struggle the most in the Nos. 2-4 area, victories from Smith at No. 1 could be vital.

The senior has a very simple strategy to ensure his winning streak continues.

“For my singles, I have to stay confident, stay level throughout the match,” Smith said. “I can’t  get too high after we win a point or get too low after we lose a point.”

The last opponent of the weekend trio, Valparaiso, is no pushover.

The Crusaders may not be ranked like Harvard or NC State, but they don’t lack talent.

“Valparaiso’s got two real quality players at one and two,” Swan said. “So our lower guys are going to have to get the job done and take the pressure off the guys at the higher part of the lineup.”

It’s tough to predict what NU will produce this weekend. But a three-match sweep is not out of the question.

“They’re very winnable matches,” Kumar said. “If we’re all on the same page and we play the way we did against Cornell or Rice, I’m confident we can win all three.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KevinCasey19