Men’s Tennis: Wildcats look to close historic season with NCAA Tournament run


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Konrad Zieba hits a volley. Northwestern’s top-ranked singles player will look to lead the team to the tournament’s main stage in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Garrett Jochnau, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Tennis

Before Northwestern’s season officially draws to a close, the team will have one last opportunity to put an exclamation point on an already historic campaign with the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

And after finishing the year with a top-16 ranking, the Wildcats have the opportunity to do so at home.

“Being in our home environment, we’re used to the courts, we’re used to the conditions,” coach Arvid Swan said. “We’ve had such terrific home-court advantage all year. Hopefully that continues this weekend.”

After posting a perfect record at home this season, opening the tournament in Evanston bodes well for the Wildcats (25-4, 10-1 Big Ten) as they look to find early momentum. So too, should the simple fact that NU enters the weekend with the best resume of the teams in the region.

Valparaiso (22-5, 6-0 Horizon), whom NU plays in the first round, failed to post a win over a ranked team this season, falling 4-3 to both Louisville and Purdue. For comparison, Northwestern swept the Cardinals and beat the Boilermakers 4-1 in their latest showdown.

Still, the Cats were hesitant to assign weight to rankings throughout the Big Ten campaign and remain equally skeptical of their own status. Even as the clear favorites against Valparaiso, they said they’ll treat their upcoming opponent with the same respect they show all teams.

“They’re a really good, quality team,” Swan said. “I mean, they won their league pretty convincingly. Their whole team is loaded. The guy at the top, (Jeffrey) Schorsch, is one of the better players in the region.”

For most of the season, the Cats’ reign of dominance was relatively unchallenged. After losses to TCU and Illinois, NU steamrolled through most of Big Ten play, sweeping the conference’s less-than-stellar squads and avenging the loss against the Fighting Illini.

However, a loss to Ohio State in the penultimate match of 2016 spoiled the team’s chances of winning a Big Ten title in the regular season, and a loss to Illinois in the conference tournament blocked the Cats’ second opportunity.

Now, with only the national tournament left on the schedule, NU is looking to avoid falling short for a third time.

“It’s the last tournament of the year,” junior Konrad Zieba said. “I’m not trying to say we have a different approach going into it, but I think there’s a little more urgency, a little more motivation to do well.”

“Well,” of course, is relative. Whereas the Big Ten Tournament pitted NU against conference foes, the field has now expanded to include powerhouses from around the country.

As such, the Cats — always taking matches one at a time — have set their short-term sights on advancing to the main stage, a goal Swan said they’ve pinpointed all year.

Doing so would build upon their already accomplished goal of earning hosting privileges and would serve to further solidify this year’s team as the program’s best ever.

But while the Cats aren’t ones to look too far ahead, they’re also not ones to limit themselves. For them, hosting is just one milestone, a laundry list of others remain unachieved.

“(Hosting is) definitely a stepping stone,” junior Sam Shropshire said. “But I think it’s important to realize it’s not the final product.”

Even with a narrow focus on the weekend ahead, the team’s goals — as they’ve been all season — remain lofty.

Swan agreed, putting the team’s prior achievements in perspective.

“It’s one goal to host,” he said. “But it’s more important to advance.”

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