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Men’s Tennis: Northwestern looks to improve on historic season

Strong Kirchheimer readies a forehand. The senior won regionals in the fall and will look to lead NU to new heights in 2017.

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Strong Kirchheimer readies a forehand. The senior won regionals in the fall and will look to lead NU to new heights in 2017.

Benjy Apelbaum, Reporter

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As Northwestern looks to improve on 2016’s historical season, expectations are as high as they have been in recent memory.

The No. 13 Wildcats return four of six singles starters from last season including last year’s top three players. The senior All-Big Ten First Team trio of Strong Kirchheimer, Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba led the team to a program-best 26-5 record last season. However, the Cats fell short of Big Ten regular and postseason titles and lost a nail-biting match against underdog Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They’ll enter the upcoming season with attainable milestones to achieve.

“We had a good year last year, and we want to build on that and keep trying to improve as a program,” coach Arvid Swan said. “Hopefully (we’re) playing our best tennis at the end of the year and give ourselves a chance to play in the postseason and finish as high as we can in the rankings, but also in the Big Ten standings.”

NU begins play Jan. 15 on the road against Vanderbilt, but most members of the team competed in individual tournaments during the fall.

Kirchheimer, who is ranked 26th in the nation, won the Midwest regionals to qualify for the National Indoor tournament, where he lost in the first round to the now-No. 1 player in the country. Freshman Dominik Stary excelled too, capturing the Big Ten Singles championship as the No. 5 seed against a field composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

Stary did not lose a set in any of his six matches during that run. He is a favorite to feature in the six-man singles lineup, which Swan believes will compete at a high level.

“We certainly had some real positive moments (in the fall),” coach Swan said. “I think we’ll be ready come the fifteenth of January. That’s always the goal … to have everybody ready and playing good tennis.”

The Cats have not won their conference since 1990. Even after finishing 10-1 in conference play last year, NU will face steep Big Ten competition in 2017, including last year’s conference champion No. 3 Ohio State. Other ranked Big Ten opponents include No. 17 Illinois and No. 21 Michigan.

Regardless of the looming challenges, the Cats are eager to return to the court and prove themselves again this year.

“We’re always excited for dual season, and it feels like that time of the year,” Kirchheimer said. “It’s kind of like Christmas. It comes around every time and that’s how we feel. We’re just ready to go again.”

Twitter: @benjyapelbaum