Men’s Tennis: Wildcats avoiding happy-to-be-here attitude as NCAA Tournament approaches

Alex Lederman, Reporter

After a year of ups and downs, Northwestern heads into the NCAA Tournament ready to prove what it’s made of.

“We’re not really satisfied with just making the tournament at this point in our season,” senior captain Raleigh Smith said. “Obviously we’re happy to be here, but we expected to be here from the beginning. Our goal is to come out of this weekend with two wins and be in the Sweet 16.”

The No. 30 Wildcats (21-10, 7-4 Big Ten) will pack up this weekend and head to South Bend, Indiana, for the tournament’s first two rounds. Saturday, NU takes on No. 38 Mississippi (15-13, 4-8 SEC), with the the winner advancing to face the winner of No. 14 Notre Dame (19-9, 7-4 ACC) and Green Bay (18-7, 6-0 Horizon League) on Sunday.

The Cats have won nine of their past ten matchups, falling only to No. 2 Ohio State (30-3, 11-0) in the conference semifinals. The Buckeyes would go on to win the Big Ten Tournament. Other than that loss, NU has been lights out, sweeping Wisconsin, No. 51 Minnesota, Iowa and No. 34 Purdue in its four prior matches.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” junior Alex Pasareanu said. “Toward the end of the season, the last few matches, we really stepped it up a notch and played our best tennis of the year. The whole team is on the same page.”

Key to NU’s success has been its freshmen. No. 107 Sam Shropshire has won 13 matches in a row and is 24-5 on the season. Along with Smith, he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and was named the conference Freshman of the Year.

Shropshire’s classmate Strong Kirchheimer has been nearly as good. He’s sent 12 of his last 13 opponents packing, in completed matches, and has a 24-7 record overall.

“We certainly do have a young team, but the freshmen and all the players have really improved,” coach Arvid Swan said. “It’s been fun to coach this group. Every day they bring it in practice, and for me that’s the most important thing: to have the right attitude and the right approach. We have that on this team, and as a result we’ve just gotten better throughout the year. Obviously, we all want to keep it going.”

Mississippi also enters the tournament playing some of its best tennis. The Rebels have won seven of their past eight. This includes victories over No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 18 Tennessee. The team only stumbled against No. 12 Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

Perhaps most impressive about Ole Miss is its coaching. Bill Chadwick has led the Rebels to 21 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and 23 overall. He boasts 647 career wins, three SEC Coach of the Year awards and one United States Professional Tennis Association Coach of the Year trophy. Additionally, he is in both the Mississippi Tennis Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. After this season, the acclaimed coach is retiring.

But the accolades don’t intimidate the Cats.

“We’re playing our best tennis at the end of the year,” Swan said. “We need that to continue. We’re not satisfied at all with just getting into the NCAA tournament. We’re trying to advance.”

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