Men’s Tennis: Wildcats start season against formidable Wolfpack, Commodores

David Lee, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Tennis

Northwestern hopes to hit the ground running as it begins the non-conference season with difficult road contests against North Carolina State on Friday and Vanderbilt on Sunday.

The Wildcats’ schedule doesn’t allow them any time to ease in. ITA preseason polls have both the Commodores and the Wolfpack within the top 30, ranking them No. 19 and No. 28, respectively.

“It’s going to be tough,” senior Alex Pasareanu said. “It’s one of the toughest schedules we’ve had since my freshman year. We’re starting the year against two really good teams.”

The rankings don’t necessarily spell doom for the Cats, though. The polls place NU at No. 34, behind both of the Cats’ opponents this weekend, but the team is nothing to scoff at.

Sophomore Strong Kirchheimer said he is excited for the season to start. He seemed unfazed by the credentials of the Cats’ first two opponents.

“Rankings don’t really mean too much,” Kirchheimer said. “We know they’re good teams. We’re just going to be worrying about ourselves and not really focusing on what they’re doing.”

But NU has its hands full, especially against Vanderbilt, which is buoyed by singles stalwart Gonzales Austin, who advanced to the round of 16 of last year’s NCAA singles championship, while no NU player was able to make it out of the first round.

But whatever NU might lack in individual talent, it expects to more than make up for with teamwork and close-knit team community.

“We’ve always been a close team,” Pasareanu said. “I think that’s one of the things we’ve done better and better since my freshman year. Even though tennis is a pretty individual sport, we utilize the team aspect of it. I think that’s what we do better than a lot of teams.”

Especially with the new fast-paced NCAA tennis scoring system, the Cats will need to stand as a cohesive unit. Starting this year, games tied at 40-40 in both singles and doubles will be decided by the next point instead of an advantage-scoring format. Doubles matches will also be shortened to six games from eight, and warm-ups with opponents before matches have been outlawed. The result is a quicker, more decisive game with an increased emphasis on every point.

Coach Arvid Swan said the new format changes how he wants his players to approach the games.

“The swings can be pretty dramatic at any period of time,” Swan said. “We’re just really focused on concentrating, making sure we maintain our focus throughout an entire practice, which hopefully means we’ll retain our focus through an entire match.”

Although the rule changes have been met with mixed reviews, they seem to benefit NU’s style.

“For me, I like it because I play more of an aggressive game, so the whole scoring system being shorter and the matches being shorter it suits my play style more,” Pasareanu said. “I think just in general, the indoor courts, balls fly quicker, everything’s faster. I think it just complements us.”

The Cats need a lot of things to go their way to win both bouts this weekend, but with sky-high confidence and a couple of rule changes, a sweep isn’t out of the question.

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