Women’s Tennis: Freshmen prepare to fill shoes of departed stars


Source: Stephen Carrera/Northwestern Athletics

Tennis freshmen Rheeya Doshi, Erin Larner and Alex Chatt pose together. The trio is poised to continue the winning ways of Northwestern’s women’s tennis program.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Northwestern historically gets wins for women’s tennis. Sixteen straight Big Ten Championships speak for themselves. So the graduation of senior leaders Veronica Corning, Belinda Niu and Nida Hamilton posed the question: Who would fill the holes?

The answer came in with the new class of freshmen: Erin Larner, Alex Chatt and Rheeya Doshi. The three come from various places: Larner from Oregon, Chatt from Illinois and Doshi from Singapore. Each arrived at college with a unique set of skills valuable to the No. 17 Wildcats, each a valid substitute for the graduated NU talent.

Lossless Larner

In high school, Larner went undefeated. Ranked No. 1 in the state of Oregon as well as in the whole Northwest region, the former Jesuit High School Crusader raked in the awards. She was a four-time Most Valuable Player and won the state title all four years of her career there. Bringing that sort of resume to coach Claire Pollard and the Cats helps a lot with confidence overall and being able to acclimate quickly to the speed and tempo of collegiate tennis.

“Erin has a great all-around game,” Pollard said. “She can do everything well. When she grew, that really made the difference for me. Some extra height on her really lends to her advantage.”

During the fall season, Larner exceeded the other two freshmen on the singles court, battling to a 12-3 record overall. Larner’s well-rounded tennis game reflects that of Corning’s from years past. Corning played No. 1 singles for Pollard last year as well as No. 1 doubles and really made the court seem smaller than it was with her style of play. Corning was also a silent killer.

“I fight on the court a lot,” Larner said. “I may not be super loud, but I’m never going to give up. And (I will) give 100 percent on every point.”

Look for Larner this year to fill part of the hole Corning left behind. With singles domination in the fall, high level of confidence coming into college tennis and Pollard’s praise, Larner is poised to take down many a ranked opponent.

The pride of Lyons 

Chatt grew up wanting to play at NU. Being raised in Western Springs, Illinois, and knowing the Cats’ tennis program has been a force to be reckoned with ever since the arrival of Pollard helped Chatt choose NU over conference rival Michigan. Coming from Lyons Township High School, Chatt rose above the competition and found herself ranked No. 2 in the state of Illinois and No. 6 in the Midwest. The former Lion won 115 of her 127 recorded high school matches, earning her the Most Valuable Player award three times as well as the title of team captain.

“Alex is feisty,” Pollard said. “I like that. She’s a great competitor. Very aggressive baseliner with a dominant forehand. So I thought her weapons between her mental tenacity and her big forehand drew me to her.”

A similar description could be given about Niu. Niu had something many collegiate players struggle to find: the clutch factor. Her dominant forehand and calm, cool and collected demeanor under pressure helped the Cats overcome the Wolverines in last year’s Big Ten Tournament Championship. Chatt’s competitive edge and “aggressive baseliner” play gives her an opportunity to beat opponents with a strong long shot while also being patient and letting the ball come to her near the back of the court. The freshman proved this in the fall with her 9-2 doubles record and winning the doubles championship alongside Doshi at the Roberta Alison Fall Classic hosted by Alabama.

“I don’t think I played my best in the fall, but I think now that I’m playing better, I have a better chance of playing higher in the lineup,” Chatt said. “At first it was definitely a tough adjustment. College is nothing like high school or … junior tennis. The fall quarter is definitely a great preparation season for the spring, and I’m feeling much better now and playing a lot better. So I’m excited.”

If Pollard places Chatt in a doubles pairing, expect to see some fireworks because with a dominant forehand, Chatt will be able to play her half of the court strongly and make her opposition pay for their mistakes. Although a feisty, aggressive nature may lead to some hasty decisions, being a baseline player will force her to wait back on the ball, time up her shots correctly and balance the haste.

Double Doshi

Being one of the four international players on the women’s tennis team is no easy feat, but neither is being the No. 1 ranked female in Singapore. Doshi has played on the global circuit, earning a fifth-place title in the Fed Cup Group II out of 13 countries. Doshi also comes into NU with a background of doubles domination, winning five International Tennis Federation doubles titles. One of the biggest tasks asked of her, though, is joining her first tennis team.

“It’s been a big change for me because I was homeschooled,” Doshi said. “I was traveling by myself all the time. Coming here and being part of a team has been great for me. Having people pushing you all the time and being there for you and motivating you … has been big for me. The biggest challenge has been getting adjusted to this because I’ve never been part of a team.”

Although Doshi is just now experiencing the team atmosphere, she has proven herself a team player, winning the Roberta Alison Fall Classic with Chatt during the fall season and going 8-6 in both singles and doubles play.

“Rheeya can do a lot of everything,” Pollard said. “She has a lot of skill sets, brings a lot of different tools to the table.”

Like Hamilton, Doshi can hold her own on both the singles and doubles courts at the highest level. Hamilton never let her emotions get the best of her, and after interviewing Doshi, she had a way of holding herself much like Hamilton.

With Doshi’s prowess on the doubles court and her varying skill sets, she creates a unique utility opportunity for herself that other players may not get. Under the coaching and direction of Pollard, she will specialize in either singles or doubles. Coming in with these compliments from Pollard means Doshi is really a blank slate for the Cats’ coach to work with, a blank slate with a high upside.

When initially asked what the new players bring to the table, Pollard responded one word: youth. With that youth comes a sense of vivaciousness that will help keep the team’s energy high throughout the long season. Along with their youth and individual skills, Pollard sees early opportunities arising for the freshmen.

“I certainly think all three of them have a chance to play immediately,” Pollard said. “The good thing about our team is there is a lot of parity. That’s a compliment to them that they instantaneously walk in and immediately are on par with a lot of the players. Whether experience will be a factor, we’ll see, but they are certainly positioning themselves and giving themselves a chance to play immediately which is all they can do.”

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