Men’s Tennis: Wildcats fall in opening round of NCAA tournament

Alex Lederman, Reporter

Northwestern’s season is over.

Entering the NCAA Tournament with high hopes, the No. 30 Wildcats (21-11, 7-4 Big Ten) fell in the first round Saturday to No. 38 Mississippi (16-13, 4-8 SEC).

“We wanted a better result in the tournament,” coach Arvid Swan said. “So we’re definitely not satisfied there. But as a whole, I thought it was a good season. I’m really proud of this group. They came to work for us every day and improved throughout the year.”

NU started out 1-4 in conference play, battling a number of injuries, but fought back to win its last seven regular-season matches and the first two rounds of the Big Ten tournament. This included four straight shutouts over Wisconsin, No. 51 Minnesota, Iowa and No. 34 Purdue.

The doubles teams especially improved. The Cats couldn’t seem to consistently win the doubles point in the first half of the season, but they snagged it in nine of their last 11 matches, including against Ole Miss.

Both the duo of sophomore Fedor Baev and freshman Strong Kirchheimer and the No. 39 duo of senior captain Raleigh Smith and sophomore Mihir Kumar nabbed their matches Saturday. The pair of freshman Sam Shropshire and junior Alex Pasareanu led 7-5 when play in their match was halted.

But after gaining a 1-0 lead, NU did not win another point.

“We started off with pretty good momentum in singles,” Swan said. “We won the first set in several spots, but Ole Miss did a really good job in second sets to gain some momentum back. If we could have just maintained the momentum from the first set to the second set, maybe it could have made a difference at the end of the match.”

Although Kumar and Pasareanu each won their first set, they fell 7-5 and 6-4 respectively in their final set. Freshmen Konrad Zieba and Kirchheimer dropped their matches in straight sets, handing the Rebels the victory. Meanwhile, No. 49 Smith and No. 107 Shropshire, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, were each in neck-and-neck final set battles when their matches were suspended.

“The final score may have been 4-1,” Swan said, ”but if you look at the individual scores, that match really could have gone our way just as easily as it went theirs.”

Even with the first-round exit, Swan is proud of his team’s accomplishments this season.

“We have a really young team,” he said. “To finish somewhere around 30th in the country is a significant accomplishment for such a young group.”

Now, the team focuses on the next year without Smith, the team’s lone senior and captain.

“Our goal is just to continue to try and get better as a program,” Swan said. “We’re losing an outstanding player and captain in Raleigh Smith, so that’s not going to be easy at all. We’re going to need some guys to step up.”

Taking Smith’s roster spot will be incoming freshman Logan Staggs. Staggs is a blue chip prospect according to and has ranked at times as the fifth highest recruit in the nation.

And with so many returning pieces, the expectations are high. Swan said he plans to bring his team to the next level in 2014-15.

“For us, the season starts in the summer,” he said. “The guys start working out and getting better in the summer to continue to advance the program.”

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