Men’s Tennis: How Northwestern put together the best season in program history

Khadrice Rollins, Managing Editor

Men’s Tennis

This is the greatest season in Northwestern history.

The Wildcats’ 25 wins are a program record, and with the NCAA Tournament still to come, there is a chance for NU to add to that mark. Its win over Illinois on March 12 was the first time in 27 matches the Cats toppled the Fighting Illini, and it was the program’s first victory over a top-10 opponent since the ITA began archiving records in 1981. But wins do not fully tell the story of just how great this NU squad has been.

Against ranked teams, the Cats have shown a serious improvement from a year ago. Overall, this year’s team is 17-4 against all ranked opponents, compared to the 11-9 record against the same competition last season.

However, it’s the margin of victory that’s been most impressive — the combined score of contests against ranked opponents this year is 84-36, a stark difference from the 69-60 score against the nation’s best last season.

NU’s ability to compete with any team in the country is partially why they are such a threat in the NCAA Tournament. If the Cats can hold on to their top-16 ranking however, their play against ranked teams may not be the main catalyst in jumpstarting their tournament run. NU is 14-0 at home this year and if it remains in the top 16, it will get to be a host site for the NCAAs.

Getting to play at home could help the Cats gain some momentum for a deep run, and the team has already proven to be dangerous once it starts clicking. After losing to then-No. 7 Illinois on Jan. 23, NU rattled off 11 straight wins before eventually falling to then-No. 3 TCU, 4-3. But after that defeat, the Cats picked up nine more consecutive victories to complete a stretch where the team won 20-of-21 games. The eleven and nine match-winning streaks are the second and third best streaks in program history, only bested by the 12-game winning stretch the 1989-90 team put together.

Although this year’s group will not top the program record for longest win streak, it will finish with the fewest losses in program history. The six losses by the 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1997-98 Cats had been the least number of defeats an NU team had ever totaled in a season until this year. But, even if the Cats fail to capture a national title, they will finish the year with just five losses. This will be only the fourth time in program history NU totaled at least 20 wins and had single digit losses and the first since the 1996-97 season.

But, as the team etches its spot in program lore, individuals are also cementing their own spots in the record books. Junior Strong Kirchheimer is going to finish the year with the second-best single-season individual winning percentage in school history since the team started keeping track back in 1981, thanks to his current 28-3 record. Freshman Ben Vandixhorn will have a chance to join Kirchheimer in the top 10 as his 20-5 record is currently the eighth best for a single year. And the last Cat to post an individual record on par with Kirchheimer and Vandixhorn was junior Sam Shropshire whose 24-5 record during his freshman campaign is tied for the fourth-best in NU history.

In addition to having great single-season records, four players on roster are in the program’s top-11 for career winning percentage, which has been tracked since 1980. Kirchheimer currently has the second best career record with a 77-23 mark over his three years at NU. Shropshire is not far behind, sitting at fourth due to his 65-25 career record, and juniors Konrad Zieba and Alp Horoz lay claim to the 10th and 11th best marks.

It’s on the doubles courts however where this year’s Cats are doing their most damage. The team has a 23-1 record when it wins the doubles point, and, thanks to the unbelievable years all three doubles pairings are having, it’s easy to see how NU can consistently claim that initial point to each game. Horoz and fellow senior Mihir Kumar are currently tied for the fourth-most doubles victories in a season at NU by compiling a 19-3 record. Kirchheimer and senior Fedor Baev are just one victory behind Horoz and Kumar for seventh-place and Shropshire and Zieba’s 17 wins at doubles has them in a tie for the ninth-most wins in a season.

The Cats dominance on the court this year did not translate to a Big Ten title, and only time will tell if they can capture a national championship. But, despite falling short of the coveted Big Ten crown, this year’s team has proven to be the best the school has ever seen.

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Twitter: @KhadriceRollins