Men’s Tennis: Depth powers Northwestern in 2-0 start to Big Ten season


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Strong Kirchheimer fire a backhand. The senior helped lead the Cats to a pair of weekend victories.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

Northwestern’s star senior trio made waves entering the 2016-17 season, but with Sam Shropshire sidelined for the opening of Big Ten play, the Wildcats found decisive boosts from younger contributors in recent matches against Purdue and Indiana.

After a historic 10-0 start to the season, NU struggled against the nation’s best, closing non-conference play on a 2-6 slide. But with an easy weekend slate to open league play, the Cats rediscovered their winning ways, sweeping the Boilermakers in Evanston and dropping the Hoosiers 4-2 on the road.

“In the Big Ten you can’t give up any spots because it’s always so close,” coach Arvid Swan said. “I’m pleased with the level of preparation that we had and the level of competitive effort that we’re giving.”

Swan declined to comment on Shropshire’s status. But without the senior’s veteran presence, NU was forced to shuffle its lineup and lean on its depth in both contests.

Against Purdue on Friday, the team rattled off a quick doubles point. Sophomore Ben Vandixhorn and senior Konrad Zieba opened with a 6-3 decision at No. 2, before sophomore Michael Lorenzini and freshman Chris Ephron clinched the point with a 7-5 win at No. 3.

In singles competition, Zieba found himself locked in a first set battle at No. 2. And though senior Strong Kirchheimer flexed his veteran prowess with a swift 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 1, it was ultimately the Cats’ newer contributors who sealed the victory.

Freshman Dominik Stary won 6-2, 6-3 at No. 3 to give NU its second point, and after Kirchheimer closed his victory, sophomore Jason Seidman delivered in straight sets to secure the sweep.

“We played really well,” Zieba said. “We had a good week of practice and I think that really helped us this weekend. We competed hard at all our spots.”

A similar narrative followed the Cats on Sunday in Bloomington.

The teams of Stary and Kirchheimer, and Lorenzini and Ephron notched doubles wins to give NU the leg up heading into singles play.

At Nos. 1, 4 and 5, Zieba, Vandixhorn and Seidman raced out to early first set leads. But Indiana challenged after an uninspired start to score second set wins against Vandixhorn and Seidman and pushing Zieba — who conceded just one game in the first set — to the brink of a tiebreaker.

“I didn’t really feel like I was playing that much worse,” Vandixhorn said. “It just came down to a few points here and there at the beginning of the set and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the set.”

Eventually Zieba secured a 7-5 second-set victory, while Kirchheimer pulled through with a 6-4, 6-3 win at No. 1.

But with Lorenzini and Stary each losing in straight sets, the match fell to Vandixhorn and Seidman in their respective third sets.

Ultimately, it was Vandixhorn who recovered, dropping just one game in the final set and winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Despite the late test Sunday, the Cats opening Big Ten weekend saw them in a rhythm, revealing both their star power and the depth needed to contend for a conference championship.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Zieba said. “We have good momentum to move forward and as we play more matches in the Big Ten hopefully we can keep it up.”

Twitter: @garrettjochnau