Women’s Tennis: Wildcats need ‘basics and fundamentals,’ not ‘frills’ in Big Ten opener


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Alex Chatt shows intensity during a match. The freshman was looking for progress from herself and her team heading into the team’s conference-opening weekend.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Women’s Tennis

Northwestern opens conference competition this weekend against Penn State and No. 33 Purdue.

After a tough start to the season, the No. 23 Wildcats have prepared for the contests in a somewhat different fashion.

During practices leading up to the first match against the Nittany Lions (1-4) on Saturday, the team could not wear anything related to the NU women’s tennis program. Under head coach Claire Pollard, the Cats (1-2) have earned the Big Ten title 16 years running. The 2014-2015 season marks the first time since 2012 that the team has started the season with a losing record. For the players not to be allowed to associate with the program is a lesson in toughness.

“We have to wear our shirts inside out,” freshman Alex Chatt said. “We don’t even have a locker right now — just start from the bottom and work our way back up. We have nothing to lose right now. We’ve been abusing the name of the program.”

Assistant coach Rob Gurden helped explain where the motivation of essentially starting over came from.

“We don’t need to have all the frills,” Gurden said. “We just need to focus on the basics and fundamentals because those are the things that are going to make us successful on game day.”

The Cats have not competed for two weeks, so this weekend can be seen as a fresh start to the season. With the last week off from matches, conference play beginning and motivation to represent the program again, NU has a recipe to level Penn State. The Cats have been able to grow the past two weeks since falling to Duke.

“We have had to take a step back and look at what we can get better at,” sophomore Brooke Rischbieth said. “We’ve all made commitments I don’t think we were aware of. It’s taken something really deep inside of us to push ourselves so hard and really look at the legacy of the program.”

Gurden helped NU seize this break as an opportunity to realign the trajectory the Cats started the season with. Gurden also helped coach the Boilermakers (2-1) before joining Pollard’s program.

But there’s no question where his interests lie this weekend.

“I want to win,” Gurden said. “I’m focused on competing, playing our best. Fortunately, I have some matchups I might be able to utilize since I know most of the players, but they’ve probably gotten better in the last few months.”

Gurden used the past two weeks to build up the toughness, excitement and chemistry of NU. The Cats are playing new roles for the most part, and the glue for keeping the team together in previous years has been the chemistry between players. With two weeks of uninterrupted practice, NU is ready to compete against a color other than purple.

In previous seasons, the Nittany Lions have proven to be a reprieve for the Cats due to NU’s 30-0 career record against Penn State. Against the Nittany Lions, the Cats are looking for a shutout similar to last year in Evanston. Overall, though, NU just wants to get out on the court and play.

“I’m so excited,” Chatt said. “It’s going to be really cool. This weekend is going to be so much fun, and I’m really excited for people to come out and watch us and see what we’ve been training for.”

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