Men’s Tennis: Wildcats look to take another step forward against Columbia

David Lee, Reporter

Hot off an impressive three-win weekend, No. 16 Northwestern continues its difficult non-conference schedule against No. 23 Columbia on Saturday at the Combe Tennis Center.

NU (11-5, 2-1 Big Ten) has won nine of its last ten matches heading into the weekend, but none of the wins have come against a team as highly ranked as the Lions (6-2).

The Cats are 1-4 in matches against top-25 opponents this season and are trying to prove they deserve their high national ranking.

“That’s been our goal this whole season, to be in the top-16 to host NCAAs,” junior Fedor Baev said. “I mean, now we’re just looking at it as we’ve achieved our goals but we want to stay there and potentially rise even higher.”

It will be difficult against a Lions squad whose roster is almost double the size of the Cats’. Columbia’s program, similarly to NU’s, is on the rise. After finishing the 2011 season unranked, the Lions ended the next three seasons ranked No. 43, No. 44, and No. 17.

The program’s momentum, along with its Ivy League prestige, has allowed it to attract high quality recruits. There are currently nine five-star recruits on Columbia’s roster, enough to fill NU’s entire team.

“We respect Columbia a lot,” coach Arvid Swan said. “They’ve been, in my opinion, one of the top-20 teams in the country these past two years. We’re excited to face them and for the opportunity.”

Sophomore Sam Shropshire will be facing his toughest challenge yet in Winston Lin, the No. 16-ranked singles player in the country.

Shropshire himself has been rising in the rankings, jumping five spots to No. 88. He was also selected as the Big Ten Athlete of the Week after winning three singles matches and a doubles match last weekend.

As always, though, he was focused on team accomplishments.

“Sometimes the rankings are accurate, but other times they are really pretty inaccurate,” Shropshire said. “But I’m happy with my ranking because if I’m going up that means the team is doing well.”

The team has been doing especially well defending its home court, losing to then-No. 11 Duke in early February before racking up seven straight home victories. It is a sharp contrast to the .500 record NU has on the road.

The players say they feel a sense of pride when they are at home and the crowd can often give them a lot of energy. Baev expects more of the same this weekend.

“We’re really excited, we’re going to bring our A-game for it and give it our all,” Baev said. “(Columbia is) coming here and we’re not going to let them take it from us, that’s for sure.”

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