Women’s Tennis: Wildcats have optimistic outlook after Alabama Invite

Mike Marut, Reporter

Opening the season against three top-30 teams proved to be a good measure of where No. 17 Northwestern stands.

Facing off against No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 8 Alabama and No. 30 Florida State is a tall order to ask of any team, even for an exhibition invitational. Coming off a strong first day, tough second day and fair third day, coach Claire Pollard was happy with her team’s performance given how much she was asking of her players.

“I’m optimistic, pleased after the weekend,” Pollard said. “Where I was really concerned, I thought we looked really good. Where I thought perhaps we were okay, maybe we could’ve played better. We’ve just lost so much from last year’s team … We’re asking players to play roles that they thought they might play eventually, but not so quickly.”

Graduated players Veronica Corning, Nida Hamilton and Belinda Niu left a big void, so for the Wildcats to step up against the teams they played over the weekend speaks volumes for the strength and cohesiveness of this new squad. No doubles tandem is returning whole, and Pollard needs to fill the No. 1 and 2 spots for singles.

On day one of the Mal Moore Invitational, NU played its best tennis against the Yellow Jackets, winning six of seven singles matches and two of four doubles duels. One of each of those wins came from sophomore Manon Peri, who Pollard described as “the best player on the court” during her matches over the weekend. Peri did not lose any singles matches throughout the invitational.

“The energy and attitude that I brought, everyone brought, (that) really helped,” Peri said. “Even if somebody was not playing great at times, everyone was really pumped and energized. I think that got a lot of us through the matches, competing and staying focused.”

The team routinely takes pride in its energy and chemistry at each match. Throughout the season, fans can find Cats players cheering on their teammates when they have finished their matches or are not in the rotation that day.

Day two proved to be a tougher matchup for NU. The Crimson Tide has nearly all its stars returning, not to mention the 2014 NCAA Doubles Champion duo. Overall, the Cats could only win three of ten singles matches and two of four doubles. The disappointing win column could not phase Pollard, as numbers do not truly tell the full story.

“I’m not returning any intact doubles teams, (but) I’m returning some good players,” Pollard said. “We have some huge shoes to fill, and it’s going to take some time for that to eventually happen. Considering what we had going up against Alabama, I thought we handled it really well. Had it been a true team competition, the score would’ve been a lot closer.”

As Pollard noted, the Mal Moore Invitational does not count toward NU’s record. Because the event is an exhibition invite, no added pressure exists for the players. The lack of an official result and stakes makes the showing a bit less important to predicting the regular season.

On day three, NU won three of its five singles matches, but only one of its three doubles matches against the Seminoles. Although not finishing the weekend with a majority of victories, the Cats still feel good about starting the record-keeping season this coming weekend.

“We brought energy and enthusiasm to this weekend and worked on our mentality during the matches,” junior Alicia Barnett said. “We focused on getting better this weekend … and preparing for the (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) Kickoff Weekend.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @mikeonthemic93