No. 20 Northwestern once again handily dispatched a lesser opponent, dropping Middle Tennessee State 6-1 in Evanston on Friday.
NU (8-5) simply did what was expected heading into the bout: assert its dominance against the feisty but overmatched Blue Raiders (6-4). The Wildcats only beat the Conference USA squad 4-3 last year but put the visitors away with more ease this time around.
NU dominated the doubles pairings, losing only three games and dictating the pace of play on all three courts. The Cats grabbed the lead early, taking 10 of the first 11 games. Senior Alex Pasareanu sealed the doubles victory for the Cats with an improbable drop shot against 6-foot-8 opponent Yannick Born.
The Cats’ singles play was more than enough to score the victory. NU won the first three singles points, but the coaches decided to finish out the contest.
“I thought we played a complete match,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Doubles was a big improvement from Cornell and we came out and played tough in singles. The focus is always trying to play a complete match, doubles and singles.”
Middle Tennessee State’s Ben Davis also aggravated a right wrist injury at the No. 1 singles spot against sophomore Sam Shropshire. Davis was behind 5-3 in the first set but decided to retire when he noticed his injury flaring up. Davis initially sustained the injury two weeks ago in a match again South Carolina, and has been cautious about injuries following a medical redshirt season last year.
Junior Mihir Kumar said he was hungry for a victory against the Blue Raiders after being denied the past two years. He shouted in frustration after blowing a lead in his super-breaker against Dima Zyhmantovich. Tied 6-6, Kumar dug deep and was able to win 4 of the last 6 points for a tough victory. Zyhmantovich openly protested several calls in the match, particularly a debatable ball called out on the last point of the match.
“At the end I just kind of gritted it out. I’m proud of myself that I did that, and at the end he just kind of gave it to me,” Kumar said.
Kumar said he wasn’t fretting over the controversial calls in the aftermath, adding, “I mean, that last ball was out.”
But most of NU’s singles matchups were clean victories. Strong Kirchheimer, Fedor Baev and Logan Staggs all won in straight sets. Staggs in particular bounced back strong after failing to take a set in two matches last weekend. He pressured opponent Victor Hoang with powerful groundstrokes and was able to keep the experienced senior from finding his rhythm.
“I stayed aggressive the whole match,” Staggs said. “During the second set he came to my backhand because he was losing the forehand rallies, and I outgrinded him. In the second set he got frustrated and was going for ridiculous shots. He started to give up.”
But Staggs, along with the rest of the squad, will need to find an even higher gear for NU to have a chance at the illustrious Big Ten title. Next week brings three more tough opponents, Indiana, Purdue and Western Illinois, and the uphill battle to a conference title.
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