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Wildcats Weekly Wrap: Fencers Finish 11th, Baseball Seeks Second Straight Series Win

A lot of anxiety currently hovers around Evanston as Northwestern sports fans eagerly await signs — the addition of a blue chip recruit, the departure of a Drew Crawford-type player, the pronouncement that Chris Collins will do at least one Pat Fitzgerald chest bump per game — of what his tenure at Northwestern will be like and whether he is the man to take the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament. But with basketball season a long way off, there's plenty else to watch, such as whether a lacrosse team that has struggled to fend off lesser schools like Navy and Ohio State can still manage to emerge as national champions at season's end, whether the baseball team's strong start and powerful rotation will be enough to earn a berth in the Big Ten Tournament or whether the women's tennis team's near upset of No. 1 North Carolina will translate into postseason success in 2013. Here's a look at where the Wildcats spring sports teams are at and what they have to look forward to this weekend.

Baseball
Overall Record: 10-6
Big Ten Record: 2-1
Last Time Out: 2-1 (13); 1-2; 5-1 vs. Iowa, 3-1 vs. Chicago State
Coming Up: 3/29 - 3/31 vs. Nebraska
InsideNU Player of the Week: Given that the Wildcats suffered two straight sweeps early in their 2012 conference slate, it was especially important that they not dig themselves such a deep hole to climb out of this season. Kyle Ruchim made sure that they started on the right track with 4.2 innings of scoreless relief in Northwestern's Big Ten opener, thus keeping the Wildcats in it until he could stroke a double in the 13th inning and come around for the winning run on a hit by Jack Havey.
Summary: Just like last year, Northwestern's Big Ten-opening series with Iowa featured a number of pitchers' duels. Just like last year, both teams combined for just 12 runs over a three-game series. Unlike last season, the Wildcats were the ones to emerge on top, stealing two of three from the Hawkeyes. But back to the parallelism, just like last season, they will move on from Iowa to play Nebraska, which they won two of three against in 2012.

Softball
Overall Record: 14-12
Big Ten Record: 0-2
Last Time Out: 4-5 (8), 1-14 (5) at Nebraska
Coming Up: 3/29 - 3/31 vs. Minnesota
InsideNU Player of the Week: Mari Majam went 3-for-4 with a triple in Northwestern's series-opening extra-innings loss to No. 25 Nebraska and tacked on an additional hit in the series finale. Majam is now batting .333 on the season with a team-leading 15 runs scored.
Summary: The Wildcats have now lost three straight as Meghan Lamberth was absolutely rocked in Northwestern's final contest against Nebraska, surrendering 10 hits, 14 runs and 11 earned runs in two innings of work. The Wildcats must hope Lamberth's struggles are temporary with Sammy Albanese also struggling early in the season. They'll need their pitchers to be top notch with the news that key cog Emily Allard is out for the season.

Lacrosse
Overall Record: 8-1
American Lacrosse Conference Record: 3-0
Last Time Out: 16-3 vs. Harvard, 9-8 vs. Ohio State
Coming Up: 3/29 vs. No. 5 Syracuse
InsideNU Player of the Week: Alyssa Leonard has nearly as many draw controls (63) as the entire Syracuse team (99). The Orange have been far from dominant on draws, taking just 55 percent, which should be music to Leonard's ears. Northwestern has controlled the draw this season by a margin of nearly two-to-one, thanks largely to Leonard. Also, keep an eye on Taylor Thornton, who with the Wildcats facing a huge potential upset at home, scored four of her 12 goals on the season, including three in just over 15 minutes of the second half, to lift Northwestern out of trouble.
Summary: The Wildcats are in the midst of a stretch where they play six of seven at home. That should allow them to generate plenty of momentum ahead of what might be their toughest challenge of the regular season: a trip to Gainesville to take on a Florida team that beat Northwestern twice last season. First thing is first though. Syracuse has a nasty three-headed attack, with Michelle Tumolo, Alyssa Murray and Kayla Treanor all averaging greater than two goals per game thus far. The Orange have struggled on the other end, however, as they've already surrendered 19 goals to Maryland and 14 goals to Florida.

Men's Tennis
Overall Record: 16-4
Big Ten Record: 2-1
Last Time Out: 5-2 vs. Nebraska, 7-0 vs. Iowa, 6-0 vs. Western Illinois
Coming Up: 3/29 at Minnesota, 3/31 at Wisconsin
InsideNU Player of the Week: Sidarth Balaji has had a remarkable run at the No. 3 spot for Northwestern, starting out the 2013 campaign with a 13-4 record at that position. Against a Minnesota team that has struggled to fill its No. 3 spot, Balaji should pick up win No. 14, but Wisconsin's Alexander Kostanov presents a whole different challenge. Even in the Badgers' 7-0 loss to North Carolina State, a team Northwestern beat earlier this season, Kostanov fought hard, before falling to Thomas Weigel, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 1-0 (10-8). Balaji was less competitive in his meeting with Weigel earlier this season, falling in straight sets. Kostanov, who won his first 11 dual matches of the season for Wisconsin, could be a tough obstacle in Balaji's path.
Summary: Even when Arvid Swan's crew isn't on the court, it wins. Northwestern was the recipient of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Sportsmanship Award, which rewards outstanding sportsmanship, character and ethical conduct, for the month of March. On the court, Northwestern will look to keep pace with Ohio State and Illinois, both undefeated within the Big Ten, with two winnable games against Wisconsin and Minnesota this weekend. Northwestern's biggest issue may be rustiness. As the Wildcats took their finals and enjoyed spring break, the Golden Gophers and Badgers played a combined seven matches.

Fencing
Overall Record: 38-8
Last Time Out: NCAA Championships (9th)
Coming Up: Season Over
InsideNU Player of the Week: Dayana Sarkisova will be sorely missed in Evanston. She completed her fourth consecutive All-American season by placing eighth in her weapon at the NCAA Championships. Her 382 victories are the fourth most in program history. Though Sarkisova will be missed, she will leave behind a fairly deep squad, as Mikela Goldstein and Jen Yamin proved themselves as worthy successors all season long.
Summary: The real question for the Northwestern fencing team is what will happen with the sabre squad. After posting a team-worst .655 winning percentage in 2012-2013, the squad is due for plenty of upheaval as its stars, Chloe Grainger and Alicia Gurrieri, are set to graduate. Each won about three-fourths of her bouts in 2012-2013; the only other consistent starter, Cara Franke, won about half of her bouts this season. Still, coach Laurie Schiller always manages to put something good on the strip, as the Wildcats have finished 11th overall in four consecutive years. All of the schools ahead of the Wildcats had both male and female entrants.

Men's Golf
Last Time Out: Fresno State Lexus Golf Classic (4th/17)
Coming Up: 3/28 - 3/30 U.S. Intercollegiate
InsideNU Player of the Week: Andrew Whalen climbed 13 spots in the final round of the Fresno State Lexus Golf Classic, as his combined 139 in the last two rounds was among the best scores seen anywhere in the tournament and was just one stroke behind the pace kept by second-place finisher Brandon Hagy of golf powerhouse California. Not bad for a freshman.
Summary: The Wildcats will see three of the top twelve teams in the country at the Stanford-hosted event as they square off against No. 7 USC, No. 10 Stanford and No. 12 TCU. They will get to square off against top individuals as well in No. 6 Julien Brun (TCU), No. 9 Patrick Rodgers (Stanford) and No. 17 Cameron Wilson (Stanford). Northwestern finished 23 strokes behind Stanford at the Gifford Collegiate earlier this spring

Women's Golf
Last Time Out: Clover Cup (6th/16)
3/29 vs. San Diego State, 3/31 - 4/2 The Farms Invitational
InsideNU Player of the Week: All eyes will be on Devon Brown as the junior returns to her hometown of Rancho Santa Fe, California. Many of her teammates also hail from the Golden State, but only Brown hails from the actual host town of Rancho Santa Fe. Brown has struggled of late, finishing four-over at the Clover Cup and eight-over at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic.
Summary: No. 1 USC is likely out of No. 29 Northwestern's league, but there's no reason the Wildcats can't compete with the rest of the field at The Farms Invitational, which is littered with teams that are either similarly ranked or slotted below them. The Wildcats actually finished a stroke ahead of their fellow Wildcats from Tucson, ranked No. 8, at The Landfall Tradition earlier this season and two strokes ahead of No. 22 Texas A&M at the longer Mercedes-Benz Intercollegiate. They also finished 14 strokes ahead of No. 31 Pepperdine at the Dick McGuire Invitational in the fall.

Women's Tennis
Overall Record: 8-7
Big Ten Record: 2-1
Last Time Out: 3-4 vs. No. 1 North Carolina, 3-4 at No. 33 Georgia Tech
Coming Up: 3/30 vs. Minnesota, 3/31 vs. Wisconsin
InsideNU Player of the Week: Well, she was good enough to earn Big Ten Women's Tennis Player of the Week honors, so I guess Veronica Corning is good enough to merit an InsideNU badge of honor as well. Corning was able to down previously undefeated No. 23 Whitney Kay of No. 1 North Carolina in three sets. That being said, she did not look so good her last time out against the Yellow Jackets, taking just a single game in a straight-set loss to Kendal Woodard.
Summary: Northwestern didn't show any rust in its matchup against No. 1 North Carolina. In the Wildcats' 4-3 loss to the Tar Heels. Linda Abu Mushrefova pulled off a straight-set victory over the No. 124 player in the country at the No. 6 spot. Corning also downed a ranked foe. And Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton came back from 5-2 down to hold match point at the No. 1 doubles spot. Though they were unable to pull out the victory, the whole team's competitiveness against the best in the land was extremely encouraging. The Wildcats' inability to carry that momentum down to Atlanta with them on Wednesday was less encouraging as they suffered a triad of straight-set losses in singles play.