Spring Sports Guide: Women’s Tennis: Hot Wildcats look to continue success in Big Ten play

Mike Marut, Reporter

Northwestern (6-3) hopes to continue its dominant streak deeper into the season.  

After ending last year on a questionable out-of-bounds call in the NCAA tournament against the University of Miami, the Wildcats have returned this season to again take the Big Ten crown and contend for the NCAA title.

“Our strength is our depth,” coach Claire Pollard said. “That hasn’t really materialized quite as well as I’d like. I think one of our strengths is that we have a chance at every spot. Our doubles point is solid and we’ve been particularly good at No. 1 and No. 2, which I think is a big bonus for the team.”

NU enters the 2014 season with a star-studded lineup, including four freshmen. Seniors Veronica Corning and Belinda Niu  rank among the top-60 players nationally at No. 30 and No. 58, respectively. Junior transfer Lok Sze Leung ranks No. 109 nationally and did not lose a set from November to late January. The freshmen in the Cats lineup have also made themselves at home, with Maddie Lipp ranked No. 104 and Jillian Rooney ranked No. 92 .

“(Pollard) has really helped me focus on (being) the type of player I want to be,” Rooney said. “So I’m not just going out and playing. I have a plan, and I’m working at that plan every time I go to play. This year we have a really great team, and everyone gets along really well, and it’s very united. We have great seniors who are always looking out for us but also lets us know what’s right and what’s wrong.”

NU continues its 2014 season ranked No. 8 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. The high ranking results from the Cats’ upsets against then-No. 2 Florida and then No. 7-Texas A&M in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The key to their victories against two top-10 teams was the doubles point.

“Well (the freshmen) are all playing important roles,” Pollard said. “Maddie (Lipp) and Brooke (Rischbieth) are featured very heavily in our doubles. If you look at our record, when we win the doubles point we do really well in the match, so that’s very important.”

Team chemistry is at its peak now, Niu said, and seems to only be rising. It plays a big role in team performance in any sport, especially tennis, although it can be seen as more of an individual competition.

“I can’t really pinpoint a definitive reason, but it definitely helps with our performancem,” Niu said. “And I personally feel more motivated that there are five other girls that I really care about also on the courts putting themselves on the line. It definitely helps me play better.”

Pollard agrees team chemistry is also a huge plus for NU.

“We’re a much more cohesive unit this year,” Pollard said. “I think we have a really good balance of young enthusiasm from the younger girls and great experience and leadership from the older girls.”

Overall, Pollard is excited about this team. NU comes into the season with a lot of motivation to dominate the women’s tennis world. The Cats already started their winning ways against Indiana last week with their best performance yet, shutting out the Hoosiers 7-0. Next in line for NU is Purdue.

“Every match presents its unique challenges and something exciting,” Pollard said. “Every time you get to compete and represent Northwestern, it’s really a fun thing. There are a couple (of particular matches) on the radar, but you’ve got to take them one at a time, and Purdue is the one we’re thinking about right now.”

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