The Daily Northwestern

Men’s Tennis: Newcomers shine as Wildcats close season with 2-1 weekend

Ben Vandixhorn returns a backhand. The sophomore was key in propelling the team past Penn State in the regular season finale on Sunday.

Ben Vandixhorn returns a backhand. The sophomore was key in propelling the team past Penn State in the regular season finale on Sunday.

Kate Salvidio/The Daily Northwestern

Kate Salvidio/The Daily Northwestern

Ben Vandixhorn returns a backhand. The sophomore was key in propelling the team past Penn State in the regular season finale on Sunday.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

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Men’s Tennis

Northwestern’s acclaimed senior trio was honored after Sunday’s win against Penn State, but it was the Wildcats’ younger contributors who shined in the team’s final regular season matches.

On Friday, freshman Dominik Starý recorded the lone win for No. 21 NU (20-9, 7-4 Big Ten) in its 6-1 loss to No. 2 Ohio State (26-3, 11-0). Against the Nittany Lions (15-12, 5-5), sophomores Jason Seidman and Ben Vandixhorn helped clinch the Cats’ 6-0 victory, before seniors Strong Kirchheimer and Konrad Zieba added another pair of singles wins for good measure.

NU also dropped Chicago State 6-0 Sunday night behind singles wins from Starý, Vandixhorn, Seidman and freshman Brenden Volk.

“They’re amazing tennis players,” Vandixhorn said of the seniors. “Just to see what they’ve done over the past four years, it’s a big goal to reach and it’s something we’re all trying to do ourselves.”

Though the season’s home stretch has been something of a farewell tour for the winningest senior class in program history, Starý, Vandixhorn and Seidman’s collective emergences have the team in position to remain competitive as a new era nears.

Starý, who fills the No. 4 singles spot when the roster is at full health, is primed to be the Cats’ top returning player next year. His freshman campaign has seen its fair share of success, from his individual win in the fall’s conference singles tournament to his 22-8 overall record.

Starý’s win against the Buckeyes’ Kyle Seelig, a redshirt freshman, only bolsters his case for Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

“We knew he was really good coming in,” coach Arvid Swan said of Starý. “We’re just scratching the surface of what he can be.”

In an otherwise disappointing match against Ohio State, Starý delivered a dose of excitement. A 6-4 first set win put the freshman on track to score an individual victory against another top conference newcomer. But as his teammates’ losses compounded on the surrounding courts, Starý said he began to lose focus as Seelig made a late push.

Eventually, the freshmen found themselves in a third-set superbreak, which Starý won 11-9 after fending off match point.

“I felt responsibility to win the match,” Starý said after eking out the win. “I said in my mind that I have to win, no matter what.”

Though the rest of the team failed to match the freshman’s success against the Buckeyes, Seidman said he was proud of their effort against one of the nation’s top teams.

“It was all about rebounding from that loss,” he said. “We knew our level was so good against (Ohio State), we just had to bring that same level over here to Penn State.”

Seidman, who suffered a swift 6-1, 6-4 defeat in Friday’s match, delivered the Cats’ first singles point with a dominant 6-1, 6-2 showing at No. 6.

Senior Sam Shropshire impressed at No. 3, bringing the Cats to the brink of victory with a 6-4, 6-0 result, before Vandixhorn clinched.

The sophomore fell behind early in the first set, but recovered to post a 6-4 win in the opening frame. He secured the decisive victory with a 7-5 effort in the second set.

“I knew I could beat him,” Vandixhorn said. “I knew it would just break through at some point.”

Kirchheimer and Zieba added another pair of wins to bolster the team’s showing.

With the seniors looking to end their careers on a high note and the newer prospects in a rhythm, Vandixhorn is optimistic about the Cats’ postseason potential.

“We’re starting to come together as a team at the right time,” he said. “I feel really confident going into the Big Ten Tournament, and then ultimately the NCAAs.”

Twitter: @garrettjochnau