Tennis: Men, women prepare for final matches of regular season

Alex Lederman and Mike Marut

Northwestern’s tennis squads each square off against a pair of Big Ten foes this weekend in their final matches of the regular season.

While the No. 13 women (14-6, 8-1 Big Ten) hit the road to take on Wisconsin (7-10, 2-7) and Minnesota (16-6, 6-3), the men (17-9, 5-4) stay home for Senior Weekend, when the Badgers (9-13, 1-8) and Golden Gophers (11-10, 5-4) will come to Evanston.

“I remember my first match freshman year against Ball State like it was yesterday,” senior captain Raleigh Smith said. “It still hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s my last one.”

Smith, ranked 58th in the country, is NU’s lone senior, and his teammates feel an extra urge to make this weekend special for him.

“Raleigh has been a big part of this team for years,” freshman Sam Shropshire said. “This weekend will definitely be really big for us and even bigger for him.”

Smith started out playing No. 6 singles for the Cats and has steadily improved to become one of the best players in the country. He has struggled lately, though, losing five of his past six matchups, and an injury forced him to retire from his most recent match against Iowa.

Still, Smith’s teammates have picked up the slack, and the Wildcats have won five straight. Shropshire is 8-0 in Big Ten play and currently holds a 12-match undefeated streak, with nine wins. Strong Kirchheimer has enjoyed a nice win streak of his own, nabbing seven straight victories and nine in a 10-match undefeated stretch.

Even so, Shropshire knows the challenge ahead won’t be easy.

“We’ve been learning that literally everybody in the Big Ten is a good team,” he said. “Nothing is going to be easy. We just have to focus and stay sharp.”

The men’s team isn’t NU’s only one looking dominant recently.

After a tough loss to Michigan two weeks ago, the women’s team rebounded with a vengeance, crushing Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa by a combined score of 18-3. Now the Cats are looking to cap off their regular season with two wins this weekend as the team heads into postseason conference play hosted on their own courts.

“Obviously we don’t overlook any opponent, but we’re just looking to improve, get better for the Big Ten Tournament,” freshman Maddie Lipp said.

NU’s goals haven’t changed.

“(We) just have to be sure that (the goals) translate when we play,” coach Claire Pollard said. “Matches that we’re maybe not as in control of. We need to make sure those performance goals translate well when we’re not as comfortable, when we’re being pushed and challenged.”

The Cats have struggled this season with winning a match when losing the doubles point. The doubles point is of the utmost importance to an NU victory, as the team has claimed all 14 of its victories when winning that point but has sustained all six losses when losing the doubles point.

“We need to play good doubles,” Pollard said. “I would like to win a match without the doubles point this year. I don’t know that I would want to try it out, but I would like at some point I feel like you’re going to have to win one match throughout the season without the doubles point, and so far that’s a goal we haven’t been able to achieve.”

Email: [email protected]

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Mikeonthemic93