Men’s Tennis: Seniors look to close careers on high note at NCAAs


Konrad Zieba finishes his serve. The senior hopes to extend his and his fellow seniors’ career in the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

Garrett Jochnau, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

In 2016, Northwestern fell just one set short of a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s main site. Against Stanford in the second round, then-junior Konrad Zieba lost a third-set thriller, giving the Cardinal a 4-3 win and capping a historic, albeit unfulfilling, season.

With one final shot to qualify for the main site, the Wildcats’ seniors — who will lead the team Friday in its opening match against Utah State — are prepared to not let another opportunity slip through their fingers.

“There’s always a little bit of a sense of urgency with us,” senior Strong Kirchheimer said. “We haven’t made the main site in my four years. That’s always in the back of everyone’s head.”

The 2017 campaign has been rocky, with an early-season slump derailing NU’s hopes of outperforming its record-breaking 2016 season. The Cats racked up an additional three Big Ten losses, and were recently sent packing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

For a team that was expected to build upon prior success and take the NCAA by storm, NU enters the NCAAs with plenty to prove. Accordingly, it will also carry a fairly large chip on its shoulder, Kirchheimer said.

Even amid a disappointing run, the Cats claim the talent and experience to contend.

Kirchheimer headlines a star-studded senior class, with Zieba and four-time All Big Ten player Sam Shropshire looking to close their collegiate careers with a first-ever trip to the tournament in Athens, Georgia.

“I definitely think we’re close,” Zieba said. “We really set the standards high for ourselves. We’ve come close, we just haven’t been there yet.”

The road to Athens is hardly clear, though. Utah State enters the first-round matchup as an underdog against No. 21 NU, but carries plenty of momentum with 15 wins in its last 16 contests.

Though the teams have never faced off, coach Arvid Swan said he’s been impressed with what he has seen this season from the Aggies.

Awaiting the victor in the second-round is the winner of Tennessee Tech and No. 8 California, which is serving as host for the opening rounds.

Against challenging odds, the Cats will likely need to leave it all on the court. Kirchheimer said the seniors will operate with a bit of urgency, and Swan said the entire team is feeling the pressure to send its veterans out with a bang.

“They’ve done so much for our program,” Swan said. “We want to be at the main site; that’s been a goal all year and I know it’s been a goal for our seniors, so there is definitely a sense of urgency.”

But the seniors won’t let the elevated stakes ruin their perspective. After four historic years in Evanston, the acclaimed trio knows a deep run in the NCAA Tournament will only bolster their impressive resumes.

And with the clock ticking on their careers, Zieba said they’ll also appreciate the final chance to represent NU and play on a team.

“We’re thinking about it a little differently, trying to enjoy the moment,” he said. “You know, be competitive but at the same time enjoy it. If we keep that perspective, I think we’ll do well.”

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