Women’s Tennis: Wildcats take on Mississippi State to open NCAA Tournament play


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Brooke Rischbieth rises to serve. The senior and the Wildcats play Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Sophie Mann, Digital Development and Recruitment Editor

Women’s Tennis

After sneaking into the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern will take on No. 18 Mississippi State in Atlanta in its 19th-straight tournament appearance.

The Wildcats (14-11, 9-2 Big Ten) enter the final stretch of the season after a challenging campaign. In a rough non-conference slate, NU dropped eight matches before conference play began; the Cats have also not managed a win against a ranked team.

Though matches with teams like then-No. 10 Duke and then-No. 9 Vanderbilt were close, competition against top foes wasn’t always so pretty for the Cats. No. 2 Ohio State swept NU in an ugly matchup the weekend before No. 10 Michigan sent the Cats to a second consecutive loss for the only time in conference play.

NU recovered against Michigan State, topping the Spartans to close the regular season and again in the Cats’ Big Ten Tournament opener.

The team lost in the semifinals against the Wolverines, something coach Claire Pollard said wasn’t something the team liked or was used to. Junior Erin Larner added that after narrowly missing the finals, NU has a renewed hunger going into this weekend.

“We had an okay Big Ten Tournament,” Larner said. “We’re just going to continue to take confidence from being right there with those top-10 teams and go into the Mississippi State match with a little bit of hunger. We definitely still want that good win this season.”

The Bulldogs (15-8, 7-6) may sport a similar record to the Cats, but they come from one of the strongest tennis conferences in the country — 10 of the top 25 teams in the nation hail from the SEC. The Big Ten, comparatively, has just two top-25 teams.

Additionally, unlike NU, Mississippi State boasts wins against four top-25 teams. The Bulldogs took down No. 24 Tennessee twice during the season, including a dominant 4-1 win in the SEC Tournament.

Because the Cats have not beaten a ranked team all season, Mississippi State presents a lofty challenge. Despite the potential obstacle, Pollard said the team hasn’t been preparing differently than it would for any other team.

“The girls don’t know much about (Mississippi State); I don’t know much about them,” Pollard said. “We can only take care of ourselves and we can only control ourselves. We spend enough time on another team, but much more emphasis and thought on what ourselves can do.”

If the Cats can pull it out this weekend, they will move on to play the winner of the Alabama State-Georgia Tech match. NU would likely be heavy underdogs against No. 8 Georgia Tech should the Cats win their opener.

Senior Brooke Rischbieth echoed Pollard’s statement, emphasizing how excited the team is to play in the tournament and show what they have after a tough season. She said neither she nor the team will go down meekly, and the Cats will need to fight to knock off the Bulldogs.

“We’re just taking it as another opportunity to play some really good tennis,” Rischbieth said. “There’s a crazy statistic about how many of the top 20 or 10 teams are in the SEC. They’re playing against the best, so it’ll be really exciting and good to see how we measure up.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @sophiemmann