Men’s Tennis: Cats look to ride experience to Big Ten success

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Men’s Tennis: Cats look to ride experience to Big Ten success

Junior Sam Shropshire after winning a point. One of Northwestern’s veterans, Shropshire hopes the team can rise to new heights in their upcoming season.

Junior Sam Shropshire after winning a point. One of Northwestern’s veterans, Shropshire hopes the team can rise to new heights in their upcoming season.

Daily file photo by Zachary Laurence

Junior Sam Shropshire after winning a point. One of Northwestern’s veterans, Shropshire hopes the team can rise to new heights in their upcoming season.

Daily file photo by Zachary Laurence

Daily file photo by Zachary Laurence

Junior Sam Shropshire after winning a point. One of Northwestern’s veterans, Shropshire hopes the team can rise to new heights in their upcoming season.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

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As Northwestern’s men’s tennis team prepares for preseason tournament play, familiar faces look to propel the squad through another successful campaign.

Though the season doesn’t begin until Jan. 17, when NU visits Louisville, the Wildcats will first see competitive action Saturday, Oct. 3, when the All-American Championships kick off in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A six-player crew will represent Northwestern at the tournament, led by junior Sam Shropshire.

Shropshire, currently ranked No. 34 in the country, is fresh off an exciting campaign in which he qualified for the NCAA Singles Championship, though he lost in the first round. This year, the two-time All-Big Ten selection is eyeing greater success.

“It was good to get there but it will be even better to win some matches,” Shropshire said. “[I’m] looking to do some more damage this year.”

His sentiment is echoed throughout the team and will be a running narrative over the course of the season. After advancing to both the Big Ten semifinals and the second round of the NCAA tournament, the bulk of last season’s roster is returning in 2016 with higher goals.

“We have a good team,” head coach Arvid Swan said. “For me, each year we try to get our program better. We’re trying to build a championship program—a program that wins Big Ten championships and competes for national championships.”

Last year’s Cats finished the regular season 21-10 and 8-3 in Big Ten play. With Shropshire leading a pack comprised largely of returning juniors and seniors, Swan is confident that his experienced team is up to the challenge.

“You watch them practice and they’re just better players,” he said. “Hopefully that will result in us being successful [against] the teams we play. We play a national schedule. It’s a challenging schedule but it’s something we’re ready for.”

Though Swan hasn’t finalized a lineup, Shropshire and junior Strong Kirchheimer — ranked No. 120 in the nation — are back after anchoring the team’s top two singles spots in 2015. Also returning are junior Konrad Zieba, senior Mihir Kumar, senior Fedor Baev and junior Alp Horoz, who spent the majority of their 2015 campaigns at the No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 singles spots, respectively.

The only featured singles player not returning is sophomore Logan Staggs, who transferred to UCLA after splitting time at third and fourth singles.

As for doubles, Shropshire saw his previous partner, Alex Pasareanu, graduate. He’ll play with Horoz in the upcoming All-American tournament, while Kirchheimer and Baev will reunite after going 11-4 last season.

“I think it definitely helps a lot,” Shropshire said regarding the advantages of a veteran roster. “Even so far in practices, most of us know what to expect. We can help and push each other… It’ll be good to have a lot of guys going back who know what it takes to mentally stay there for the whole season and physically too.”

Swan agreed.

“The guys who have been here, they understand our system. The work ethic is outstanding. The sense of professionalism on how they approach each day is really good. [It’s a] very mature group.”

Swan, who has been the Cats’ head coach since 2007, also noted that the experienced veterans will serve as role models for the three freshmen, Jason Seidman, Ben Vandixhorn and Michael Lorenzini, who will join NU’s roster. The three were ranked as the No. 63, 69 and 82 prospects in the nation by TennisRecruiting.net.

With plenty of time to go before NU squares off against Louisville to open the season, Swan remains unsure as to how the new additions will be used.

“I don’t really have an expectation of who’s going to play and who’s not going to play,” he said. “Those guys earn it on a daily basis, so the freshmen are going to have to prove themselves.”

At the very least, Swan and his team know that a veteran core exists that already knows how to produce.

And, as Swan noted, that core will return an improved version of its 2015 self.

“I think last year we were right there in the mix for the Big Ten title,” Shropshire said. “Last year definitely taught us that we can take it.”

To get there, though, the Cats will have to leapfrog Ohio State, Illinois and Minnesota, last season’s top Big Ten finishers and the teams who handed NU its only conference losses.

Swan is aware that nothing will come easy for a squad with high aspirations, but shared Shropshire’s general sentiment.

“We have a lot to build on,” he said. “Advancing in the NCAA tournament again was a good thing and we have a very motivated group who keep wanting to move the program forward. So a lot of positives from last year but still a lot more work ahead of us.”

Email: garrettjochnau2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @garrettjochnau

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