Men’s Tennis: Sooners blitz Wildcats in finals of ITA Kick-Off

Max Schuman, Reporter

In baseball, momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. In tennis, momentum is even harder to grasp.

No. 28 Northwestern (2-2) discovered that the hard way at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend tournament in Norman, Oklahoma, as strong play in a 4-2 victory over No. 58 Arkansas on Saturday gave way to a 4-1 defeat against the hosting No. 2 Oklahoma (3-0) on Sunday.

The Cats got out to a fast start against the Sooners in doubles. Senior Alex Pasareanu and junior Mihir Kumar dropped their doubles set, 6-3, to open proceedings, but the pairings of sophomores Sam Shropshire and Alp Horoz and junior Fedor Baev and sophomore Strong Kirchheimer won their sets by identical 6-3 margins to give NU the 1-0 lead.

“We came out super aggressive in doubles and that carried over to singles,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We need to come out like that in doubles in every match we play.”

With the upset-minded Cats winning their first doubles point of a match this season, they seemed poised for a statement victory over the nation’s second-ranked team heading into singles. But the Sooners closed the door on NU with four straight singles victories to clinch the matches.

Freshman Logan Staggs was the first to lose his singles match, falling to 14th-ranked singles player Axel Alvarez 6-2, 6-2. He lost both of his singles matches this weekend in the No. 2 spot after falling to Arkansas’ Jovan Parlic on Saturday, 6-2, 6-4.

“What I need to work on is playing every point with a little more intensity,” Staggs said. “I could’ve made my match a little closer, and if I had won, who knows?”

Horoz, who scored the clinching singles point of the team’s upset victory over Vanderbilt, started his match with a first set triumph but couldn’t hold on to his advantage, losing to Jose Salazar 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. Shropshire was able to take his match to three sets before ultimately conceding to No. 20 Andrew Harris, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Kirchheimer, who had yet to lose a singles contest on the season, battled in his match but was disappointed to ultimately fall 5-7, 5-7 to No. 33 Dane Webb to seal the overall victory for Oklahoma.

“I played some decent tennis and had chances, just wasn’t able to capitalize,” he said. “If I had done my job I think we probably would’ve gotten the win, but that’s tennis.”

The final 4-1 margin of the match betrayed a solid effort by the team in Swan’s eyes.

“We came up a bit short, but if you looked at the match, four of the six (singles) matches were in the third set, and that’s the No. 2 team in the country,” he said.

The win in the four-team tournament qualifies Oklahoma for the ITA National Indoor Championships in February. The event was one of 15 similar events being held across the country to determine qualifiers for the championship event.

To make the finals, NU defeated the Razorbacks 4-2 on Saturday. The Cats put themselves in an early hole after losing in doubles, but were able to surge in singles, taking four of five matches to advance to Sunday’s final. Shropshire, Kirchheimer, Baev and Horoz all put points on the board for NU in singles against Arkansas to win the match.

That performance, combined with a match against Oklahoma that was more hard-fought than the final margin indicates, has the team looking up after the loss.

“There’s definite progress there,” Staggs said. “I feel like as a team we are going in the right direction.”

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