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Men’s Tennis: Seidman’s heroics against Iowa seal perfect weekend for Northwestern

Sam Shropshire lunges for a volley. The senior helped the Wildcats to a pair of Big Ten wins this weekend.

Sam Shropshire lunges for a volley. The senior helped the Wildcats to a pair of Big Ten wins this weekend.

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Sam Shropshire lunges for a volley. The senior helped the Wildcats to a pair of Big Ten wins this weekend.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

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Men’s Tennis

It all came down to Jason Seidman.

After opening the weekend homestand with a decisive shutout win over Nebraska (4-14, 0-7 Big Ten), the No. 21 Wildcats (17-7, 5-2 Big Ten) found themselves on the brink of a collapse against Iowa (11-11, 1-6) on Sunday. And with the score tied at 3, the match fell to the sophomore on court No. 5.

“Once I saw Ben (Vandixhorn) was down, I expected it to go down to me,” Seidman said. “I was having nightmares from Virginia, when I lost the (Oklahoma) match.”

But unlike Virginia, when Seidman fell in a third-set tiebreaker to seal a 4-3 Northwestern loss, the sophomore held off opponent Jason Kerst, winning 7-6, 7-6 to lift the Cats over the Hawkeyes.

It was an exciting ending to the back-and-forth barnburner, but one that coach Arvid Swan would have hoped to avoid. NU has struggled with consistency, and after steamrolling the Big Ten-worst Cornhuskers, the Cats entered Sunday’s contest with an opportunity to build greater momentum heading into the back end of the conference slate.

However, early energy was marred by a disappointing outcome in the doubles slate. Sophomore Michael Lorenzini and freshman Chris Ephron dropped a swift match at No. 3 doubles, and seniors Konrad Zieba and Sam Shropshire lost seven-straight games after opening a 5-0 lead to give Iowa a 1-0 advantage.

The match marked Shropshire’s third since his return from injury against Nebraska. He and Zieba won at doubles in the weekend’s opening match before Shropshire pulled out a three-set victory in singles.

After Sunday’s early heartbreak, Shropshire — who said it was “definitely nice to be playing instead of cheering” — looked to rebound at singles.

“Arvid always talks about four quarters. Doubles is the first quarter, the three singles sets are the other three quarters,” Shropshire said. “We always try to divide stuff up and block out whatever happens previously.”

That he did, dominating his opponent at No. 3 singles to the tune of a 6-3, 6-0 win.

Executing with balanced ground strokes, the senior hardly looked shaken by his recent injury. Swan said he hopes Shropshire’s return pushes the Cats to the next level now that the team is at full health.

“He’s been one of the best players in the Big Ten, if not the best player in the Big Ten, over four years, so it’s a huge boost to us,” Swan said. “He’s a winner.”

His teammates also looked inspired in the opening frames of singles play, with all six singles competitors jumping out to first set wins.

And while freshman Dominik Starý and senior Strong Kirchheimer — who had together led 5-4 before their doubles match was stopped — continued to roll, securing straight-set wins to put NU ahead 3-1, Zieba and Vandixhorn began to slip.

Zieba, the Cats’ top singles player, never found his early magic and lost 2-6, 6-1, 6-0. Vandixhorn made a late push in the second frame after falling behind early, but saw the set — and eventually, the match — slip away 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

But Seidman’s heroics staved off the visitors’ comeback, giving NU an intense, ugly and much needed win as it prepares for a competitive closing stretch.

And with the team at full health and in winning form, the Cats are ready to challenge the Big Ten’s best.

“We just need to keep building,” Shropshire said. “The next two weekends are the biggest weekends of the regular season so far.”

Benjy Apelbaum contributed reporting.

Twitter: @garrettjochnau