Spring Forward: Men’s Tennis

Our beloved football program has entered spring practice, our men’s basketball team is prepping for the Big Ten tourney, and our women’s basketball team awaits its postseason fate. Naturally, my thoughts turn to men’s tennis.

Actually, this is a periodic series I’ll be contributing to Sippin’ On Purple, highlighting those other NU athletic programs that bring us such purple pride when they do well.  And what better sparkling conversation to bring to a sorority formal or alumni gathering than, "Say, did you hear about our women’s fencing team the other day?"  I kid, because I love.

Anyway, let’s get this started with men’s tennis. This is a spring sport, but the Wildcats have actually been in action since January, compiling an 8-5 dual match record so far. The team, often overshadowed by the fantastically successful women's squad, has a promising collection of talent that hopes to revive the program to its glory days of the ‘90s.  Click on the jump for more than you'd ever want to know about NU men's tennis.



Most recent result: 6-1 loss at No. 24 Notre Dame

How does the sport work? Teams start off each dual match with three doubles matches. The team that wins two or three of the doubles matches earns the doubles point. Then there are six singles matches, with each win worth one point. Thus, seven total points are at play. Earn four out of the seven, and you’ve got yourself a win.

How’s the team doing? Not bad.  Not great, either, but not bad. Their record seems to be a pretty fair reflection of how they’ve done, i.e. no jaw-dropping wins, but not really any bad losses, either, except for a 7-0 pasting by Princeton. The team is ranked 60th, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which uses a computer formula to calculate its rankings.

How’d they do last year? 10-15 record, 1-9 BigTen. After a strong start, the wheels fell off, and the team ended the regular season on a 7-game losing streak. The Wildcats did pull off an upset in the first round of the BigTen tournament but lost in the second, failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

What’s the historical context? You may have heard of Todd Martin, the former world No. 4 singles player, who honed his craft at NU for two years and led the team to a 1990 Big Ten title, before turning pro. After a pretty successful run in the ‘90s, the team hit the doldrums in the ‘00s, making the NCAA tournament just twice from 2001-2007, when 24-year head coach Paul Torricelli stepped down.  New coach Arvid Swan (more on him below) is rebuilding the program. In his second season in 2009, the team went 18-9 and made the NCAA postseason for the first time in four years, but last year was a disappointment.

Who are the players to watch? The team only has eight players, so all of them will get a little love here. Andrew McCarthy is the lone senior and has compiled an 8-4 singles record, mostly in the Nos. 3 and 4 slots. Juniors Josh Graves, Tobias Reitz and Eric Spector made up the 12th best recruiting class in their year, according to Spector looks to be slowed by shoulder surgery in the offseason. Graves has gone 6-6 in the No. 1 singles slot, and Reitz has gone 6-6, mostly in the No. 4 slot. Sophomores Sidarth Balaji, Christopher Jackman and Spencer Wolf formed the eighth best recruiting class in their year. Balaji has been limited to just three singles matches, going 2-1, while Jackman has gone 7-5, mostly in the No. 6 slot, and Wolf has gone 6-7, mostly in the No. 2 slot. Highly decorated freshman Raleigh Smith was the lone recruit in his class, and he has gone 6-6 in singles play, splitting time in the Nos. 5 and 6 slots.

The team’s doubles play has been very impressive. Graves and Wolf have teamed up to go 10-1, while the duo of McCarthy and Reitz has gone 7-4.

Who’s the coach? Arvid Swan came to NU in 2008, after a year as head coach of DePaul. Prior to that, Swan was associate head coach at NU from 2003-06. As a collegiate player, he was All-Big Ten in 1996 at Michigan and graduated in 1998, with a brief professional career before getting his start in coaching.

Assistant coach Adam Schaechterle is an NU alum, who captained the team his senior year in 2006.

What’s the outlook for this year? The program has had a couple of highly decorated recruiting classes the last couple of years and is hoping to build on that. The roster is still fairly young, and some health issues may hold the team back.

The team is taking a two-week break for finals, and after a spring break jaunt to Naples, Florida, to play Florida GulfCoast, NU opens Big Ten play at No. 16 Minnesota on March 25. Two matches after that is a date at home with No. 3 Ohio State.  The Big Ten, as always, is pretty loaded, with No. 4 Illinois and No. 8 Michigan also on the schedule. No doubt, a tough row to hoe.

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