Women’s Tennis: Key to 2015-2016 Success? ‘Be Healthy’

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Daily file photo by Sean Su

Senior Alicia Barnett, a former Daily staffer, returns a shot. Barnett is the lone senior on this year’s team and her experience will be needed as the Wildcats try to earn another Big Ten title.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Northwestern lost its first Big Ten conference title in 16 years last season. The Wildcats are determined to not let it happen again.

Last year, injuries plagued NU, which lost then-sophomore Maddie Lipp for the entire season and suffered from a host of other injuries throughout the winter and spring — at one point having only six healthy players of the nine on the roster.

To succeed this season, coach Claire Pollard constantly reiterates one phrase: “Be healthy.” Lipp has returned to full strength, evidenced by her co-singles title and doubles title in the Wildcat Invite over the weekend. Both crowns were shared with sophomore Alex Chatt, a rising star in her own right.

The Cats have a “work hard in the preseason” mindset, and this unification will make them hard to stop. Tennis is as much an individual sport as it is a team game.

“Ultimately, it’s an individual sport, only you can get your job done,” Pollard said. “On the court, you need to take care of yourself and be very selfish about your own game. … everyone takes care of themselves and raises the level and pushes the bar up and up and up.”

Lipp’s return and the loss of only one player to graduation means this year the players are all upperclassmen except one new freshman, Lee Or.

The Freshman

Although incoming freshmen typically arrive with drive, passion for the game and a great amount of skill to succeed, the self-admittedly demanding Pollard said they usually find their freshman season difficult.

“I have a very specific way of doing things — it’s just a huge culture shock for (freshmen) to join the program,” Pollard said. “All the girls have gone through this. They’ll tell you being a freshman in the fall at Northwestern is not a fun experience on the tennis team.”

But this season, the new kid on the block, Or, isn’t so green to hard work and high expectations. Or hails from Kfar Saba, Israel, where she spent the past two years in the military. Sgt. Or brings a different attitude than most new players to Pollard’s program — a certain aura of seriousness and leadership.

“She brings a maturity, a sophisticated game, a lot of skillful tennis that will just need to be harnessed the right way,” Pollard said. “She’s a playmaker. College tennis is a little bit more about grinding and competing and making balls. We need to merge her skills with (that) and then we’ll have a heck of a player there.”

Or also identified some of the benefits her time in the service has brought to her tennis game.

“For starters, in the army you’re a team player,” Or said. “You have your soldier friends, you have their backs. The army has taught me discipline.”

That doesn’t make her all business, all the time, though. She has already begun gelling with the team, joking around and enjoying her time both on and off the court. Of course, the push from Pollard to improve every day has not gone unnoticed.

“Claire is demanding more at this point than the Israeli army,” Or joked.

The Return

Lipp is making her collegiate comeback as a redshirt sophomore. Missing all last season due to injury, Lipp is on the warpath whenever she takes the court. As a freshman, Lipp showed her skill with her power and attention to detail. Her injury inspired her during the off-season to bring her game to the next level.

“She really dedicated herself this summer, really put tennis at the top of her list of priorities,” Pollard said. “She’s made the extra commitment. As a result, she got wildcard into the All-American Main Draw in singles and doubles Main Draw. That elevates our program back up to the level that we aspire to be.”

She started the season strong, winning two titles in the Wildcat Invite last weekend

“It was different playing with our uniform on, as opposed to playing for myself,” Lipp said. “A little more pressure with the N on, but definitely more fun.”

With the Cats at full strength, they will be a force to be reckoned with once again this year.

“I pretty much guarantee the girls, if they do the work, they’ll be successful here,” Pollard said.

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Twitter: @mikeonthemic93

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