Throughout the week, we'll be providing updates on some of Northwestern's spring non-revenue (and non-lacrosse) sports. First up is tennis.
There is no hotter team at Northwestern right now than men's tennis, currently ranked as the 26th-best squad in the nation according to the April 7 edition of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Winners of four straight matches -- and 10 of their last 12 -- the Wildcats have worked their way up to fourth in the Big Ten standings behind No. 3 Illinois, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 32 Minnesota. A matchup against Minnesota, who leads Northwestern (16-7, 5-2 Big Ten) by just one match in the standings, looms on April 19, the final match of the season.
Finishing last season as the No. 33 team in the country, the ITA put a lot of faith in the Wildcats, giving them the 34th spot in its rankings before the indoor season began in January, despite having graduated its best player, Raleigh Smith, who finished his career as the No. 53 singles player in the country.
That faith was rewarded in the form of a major youth movement for the Wildcats, whose top four singles players are three sophomores and a freshman. Leading the charge is sophomore Sam Shropshire, who has pushed his singles ranking all the way up to No. 57 while playing a brutal schedule at the top singles position. The Philadelphia native has won five matches in a row, including an impressive 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over Ohio State's Mikael Torpegaard, then ranked as the No. 32 player in the nation. In doubles, Shropshire has teamed up with senior Alex Pasareanu at No. 1, to form the 44th-ranked doubles team in the country.
Sophomore Strong Kirchheimer has also been impressive, as he is up to No. 116 in the singles rankings and, with partner Fedor Baev, a junior, he is part of the No. 85 doubles team nationally. Although he has dropped his last two matches at the third singles spot, sophomore Konrad Zieba has been a big contributor with two tough three-set wins over No. 11 Ohio State and No. 50 Penn State in back-to-back matches in late March. Freshman Logan Staggs, a highly-touted recruit, has also been a nice addition to the roster, earning wins in the No. 4 spot.
While the men's program has bounced around the middle of the Big Ten for years, the women's program has been a model of consistent excellence. The Wildcats are in the midst of a run of 16-straight seasons where they earned at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title or have won the Big Ten tournament.
This season, the No. 23 Wildcats (10-5, 5-2 Big Ten) sit tied for third place in the Big Ten standings behind No. 14 Michigan and No. 18 Ohio State. The Wildcats, who are used to dominating the conference, face a difficult road to keep the streak alive. Having already lost to the Buckeyes 6-1 in Columbus back in early March and at Michigan by the same score later that month, Northwestern will have to find a way to turn those results around as it would likely have to go through both teams on the way to the title.
Northwestern lost two top-60 singles players in Belinda Niu and Veronica Corning following last season, and the Wildcats have been struggling to duplicate their success. They currently have no singles players ranked in the top 125. Northwestern does feature two doubles teams in the rankings: the No. 39 pairing of Alicia Barnett and Erin Larner and Brooke Rischbieth and Rheeya Doshi at No. 70.