Women’s Tennis: Wildcats ready to defend home court in Big Ten Tournament


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman Erin Larner smashes a serve. Larner is looking to help Northwestern win its 16th Big Ten Tournament in the past 17 years.

Alex Lederman, Reporter

Women’s Tennis

The Big Ten Tournament is where Northwestern thrives — the Wildcats have won 15 of the past 16.

This weekend, NU will host the tournament and looks to add to that total.

“If we go down,” coach Claire Pollard said, “someone’s going to have to rip our heart out and take it. We’re certainly not going down without an incredible fight.”

But the journey ahead won’t be easy. The Wildcats (14-6, 9-2 Big Ten) enter as the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Michigan (21-3, 11-0) and No. 2 Ohio State (18-5, 10-1). Both teams handled NU 6-1 in the regular season.

Even so, that doesn’t worry junior Alicia Barnett.

“We’re a different team than we were at the start of the season,” she said. “Whether it’s mental, whether it’s physical, whether it’s on court, everyone has done everything they can.”

NU struggled early in the year with season-ending injuries to sophomores Manon Peri and Maddie Lipp, and the doubles lineups were constantly in flux.

Since the loss to Michigan though, the Cats have not been stopped. They’ve won seven straight Big Ten matchups and nine straight doubles points.

And after last year’s remarkable come-from-behind victory against the Wolverines to win the conference tournament, the Cats are hungry for more.

“We’ve got some new faces,” Pollard said. “But we’ve also got a lot of girls who tasted that extraordinary win last year. I imagine we’ll be a different team than we’ve been all year.”

Multiple members of the team said the key for NU is to take it one match at a time.

Up first is No. 6 Illinois on Friday.

The last time the Cats and Fighting Illini played, it was a one-sided affair — NU pummeled Illinois 6-1. Only Barnett fell at No. 1 singles, but in a third-set tiebreak (10-2).

But in the same match, freshmen Erin Larner and Alex Chatt escaped their matches at No. 2 and No. 3 in even closer three-setters (10-8 and 10-7, respectively), so the challenge ahead won’t be easy.

“We’ve got to focus on Illinois first,” Larner said. “You can’t overlook anyone. Everybody earns their spot in the tournament and we have to focus on one match at a time.”

The Cats and Fighting Illini have a first-round bye, while the seven through 10 seeds play the opening round Thursday.

On Monday, Pollard said she planned to focus this week on the little things each individual player could improve.

“I’ll probably be tough to them tomorrow and Wednesday,” she said, “and then really nice to them on Thursday.”

NU has tried to get 1 percent better every day — a goal Barnett said the team has reached.

“Our confidence is sky high,” she said. “The last few matches, although they haven’t been as highly ranked as previous matches, we’re playing a lot better than we had been.”

Even so, the team isn’t focused on its legacy. Chatt and Larner said there are too many good teams in the tournament this year to stick with that mindset.

And, of course, every streak has to come to an end eventually.

“If you had told me when I arrived that I’d win one Big Ten championship,” Pollard said, “I would have been ecstatic.”

But the Cats sure won’t be an easy out in the tournament.

“We faced a lot this season,” Barnett said. “It seemed like one thing after another was going wrong. But at the end of the day, I definitely think it made us stronger and hungrier to do well. With everything going so badly at first, we definitely deserve something for all our hard work.”

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