Women’s Tennis: Wildcats look to upset Vanderbilt on the road


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Manon Peri winds up for a forehand. The sophomore is still out for the time being, one of the three injuries that is forcing the Wildcats to use the most out of every healthy player on the roster.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Women’s Tennis

The No. 21 Wildcats struggled against ranked non-conference opponents to start the season but want to reverse that trend against No. 12 Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday.

Starting the season against Arizona State, Rice and Duke was a tough task to tackle, but NU (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) powered through — coming out with one win and two losses. All three opponents were ranked in the top 40, and with a few weeks under their belts, the Cats are ready to face another ranked non-conference foe in the Commodores (4-4).

“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t know what we were expecting,” freshman Alex Chatt said. “We didn’t know where we stood. We didn’t really have it in us. Now, I think we’ve come such a long way we are finally ready and finally prepared to take on a (highly ranked) non-Big Ten team.”

Chatt has consistently, and quietly, defeated each of her opponents in singles. Winning every set in singles so far this season has belied her adjustment to the collegiate pace. Freshman Erin Larner has also proven herself on the court, playing her way into the No. 2 singles spot after winning a match at both the No. 3 and No. 4 courts.

Although the freshmen may be a strong asset for the team, NU faces a different challenge: three of its nine players are injured.

Because of the injury issues the Cats face, every available player must contribute to both the doubles and singles portions of the match. In the past, NU has used its team chemistry as a dangerous weapon against opponents, and that has continued this season.

Sophomore Jillian Rooney had minimal previous experience in doubles matches prior to last weekend against Purdue. Assistant coach Rob Gurden made the decision to pair Rooney with Larner at the No. 2 doubles court against the Boilermakers, an opponent NU has struggled to finish against. Rooney and Larner fought from behind to win 8-5.

“I really liked playing with (Larner),” Rooney said. “We really got each other going. It felt good to be out there. Hopefully we can keep it going for the next couple of weeks while I’m playing.”

Another small help with confidence is the return of head coach Claire Pollard. Pollard missed the Penn State and Purdue matches due to family reasons. The Cats did not skip a beat while Pollard took her leave, but having her back probably doesn’t hurt. Pollard is known to bring solid advice and strategy to each match, and facing the Commodores this weekend provides nothing different.

“They’ve got a good balance between aggressive tennis players, but also very steady, stingy players,” Pollard said. “We’re going to have to replicate that and be better versions of them. We’re aggressive, we’re going to need to be able to dictate our game on them, and we’re stingy and play more break-down tennis.”

If NU can overcome Vanderbilt, the victory will solidify the return of the Cats after their troubled start. The Commodores themselves recently fell to Stanford and will be looking to take their revenge out on NU.

NU, meanwhile, is looking to expand on the fight it recently rediscovered.

“We got back to our roots of being feisty and competitive,” Pollard said. “We’ve been a bit more gritty and sort of working-class, hard-nosed tennis.”

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