Women’s Tennis: Wildcats remain optimistic despite injuries, adversity


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Northwestern has faced several doses of adversity in its young season. Junior Alicia Barnett has taken on a leadership role and encourages her teammates to fight for each other and their injured fellow Cats.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Spring Sports Guide

Northwestern began the 2014-15 season with its first losing record in three years, but after two weeks of practice and two wins over two Big Ten opponents, the Wildcats are back on track.

Entering the past weekend, No. 21 NU (3-2, 1-0) faced a reality check after losing two of its first three matchups against top opponents. With three of their top players graduating, the Cats were left to figure out a new six-player lineup. The inexperienced group required many of the players to learn and adopt new roles on the team. With a young squad — one senior, one junior, four sophomores and three freshmen — NU will have to find its identity quickly.

“Because of some of the adversity we’ve had, the team has gotten closer,” assistant coach Rob Gurden said. “They’re trying to get to know who they are and what they’re made out of. … We’re moving in the right direction.”

Beyond the youth of the Cats, the team has also faced an uphill battle from the beginning with injuries. Currently, three players have sustained injuries and a fourth is playing “somewhat hurt.” Sophomores Maddie Lipp and Manon Peri, and freshman Rheeya Doshi are all injured. Doshi plans to return next week while Lipp is out for the season. Peri hurt her knee against Penn State and the timetable for her return remains unclear after an MRI on Feb. 15.

Senior Lok Sze Leung has been nursing an apparent elbow injury, wearing a sleeve each match and icing her elbow after nearly every practice and competition. Despite the injuries, the Cats still have a winning mindset, Leung said.

“It started with (head coach Claire Pollard) giving us this chapter from a book,” Leung said. “It talked about playing to win and that mentality, and how it affects your brain. Instead of playing defensively or tentatively, we just impose our game and our willpower onto our opponents.”

Another hindrance for the team is Pollard’s recent indefinite leave of absence for family reasons. With the roster reduced to only six players and no head coach, NU needs all hands on deck until Doshi is able to return to be a seventh option.

For now, the Cats will have to dig deep and build off their two wins in the Big Ten opening weekend. The victory over Penn State provided a much-needed confidence boost, especially winning in spite of Peri forfeiting her match midway through the first set. The victory despite the mid-match injury pointed to the strength, toughness and fundamentals the team practices, which Gurden stresses during practice.

“Taking away some of the frills at times gets you back to the basics and the fundamentals,” Gurden said. “They were much more visceral in their competition mindset (last weekend).”

Chemistry also has always been important for NU, but even more so this year due to the youth of the team and everyone playing a new position. As the longest tenured active player under Pollard, junior Alicia Barnett has taken up a leadership role on the team as both the No. 1 singles player and one half of the No. 1 doubles tandem.

“We just have focus on competing,” Barnett said. “If we can fight for each other, for the people who can’t come to our matches, can’t come to practice or can’t play, it’s just going to make us stronger in the long run. We only have six players on the court, and we need every spot.”

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