Northwestern riding hot streak into Big Ten tourney


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Sam Shropshire is one of several Northwestern players carrying impressive winning streaks into the Big Ten Tournament. The Wildcats take on Iowa on Thursday in the event’s first round.

Alex Lederman, Reporter

No. 32 Northwestern has prepared all season long for this weekend.

Now, the streaking Wildcats (19-9, 7-4 Big Ten) finally head to East Lansing, Mich. to take on their rivals for the Big Ten Tournament and all the marbles.

“We want to be better at the Big Ten Tournament than we were today,” Coach Arvid Swan said Sunday after a 7-0 sweep over Minnesota. “We played two good matches this weekend, but every team in the Big Ten is good, so we’re still working on getting better.”

The fifth-seeded Cats open Thursday against 12th-seeded Iowa (9-14, 1-10) in the first round of the conference championships. The last time these teams squared off on April 13, NU trounced the Hawkeyes 5-2.

NU is riding a seven-game win streak heading into the postseason, dating back to its first match of the month against Michigan.

“We were 1-4 in the Big Ten at one point, and now we have six conference wins in a row,” senior captain Raleigh Smith said. “We feel like we played a tough schedule in the beginning and there were a couple matches we maybe could have and should have won, but it’s nice to be playing so well heading into the tournament.”

The Cats fell in early conference matches against Ohio State, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue, the top four seeds. Still, all four matches were close, with NU losing to the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Boilermakers 4-3 and the Fighting Illini 4-1.

“You look at a couple of scorelines — Penn State, Purdue and Ohio State were all 4-3s, and in Illinois we played without Konrad Zieba,” Smith said. “Obviously woulda, coulda, shoulda, but we feel pretty confident against anybody in the conference.”

The top four teams have byes, making NU the highest-seeded team playing Thursday. If the Cats top the Hawkeyes, they will face Purdue, the fourth seed, in round two.

Every other conference opponent— Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota — NU put away by scores of 5-2 or better.

And it’s not just the team that’s streaking right now. Many of the individual players are too.

Freshmen Sam Shropshire and Strong Kirchheimer each have 11 consecutive singles wins and are 10-0 and 10-1 in the Big Ten respectively. Junior Alex Pasareanu has nabbed eight straight singles victories of his own.

“It’s good momentum,” Pasareanu said. “It’s always good to know everyone is playing well. It gives us a lot of confidence, which is always good to have going into the Big Ten tournament.”

NU’s doubles teams have also played better in recent weeks. Since early season struggles, Swan and his players have identified doubles as the number one area for improvement.

Clearly, their hard work in practice has paid off. After dropping the doubles point in 12 of their first 15 matches against ranked foes, the Cats have now won it in six of their past seven matchups.

Kirchheimer and sophomore Fedor Baev have been constants at the No. 3 doubles, now with a five-match undefeated streak, and Smith and sophomore Mihir Kumar rank 33rd in the nation in doubles. But the No. 2 doubles has been a revolving door of candidates.

Against Wisconsin and Minnesota, Swan played Shropshire and Pasareanu together. Although the pair only went 1-1 on the weekend, prospects for the future look good.

“Coach Swan is playing us together because we have pretty good potential as a team,” Pasareanu said. “We both play pretty similarly, and we have similar personalities, so I think that blends together well. Moving forward, it’s just a matter of practice.”

And that’s the plan for the week: practice, practice, practice.

“Singles and doubles both can be better,” Swan said. “Our focus is more individualized attention for each doubles team and individualized attention for each singles player on what they need to do in their game to be even better.”

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