A season after posting 20+ wins for the fourth-straight year, a program-best 10-1 Big Ten record and a fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in as many years, Arvid Swan knew it would be hard for his team to get even better in the 2016-17 campaign.
With his Wildcats rolling to a 9-0 start and top-10 ranking nationally, it’s fair to say Swan should be surprised with how his team has played so far. Following a 3-0 weekend — with wins over Boise State, Harvard and Duke at the Combe Tennis Center — No. 9 Northwestern is perfect on the young season, and hasn’t shown signs of slowing down.
Back-to-back 4-0 wins against the Broncos and Crimson on Friday and Saturday continued a stretch of five games in which the Wildcats didn’t give up a point in match play. After notching the doubles point on Sunday, Northwestern is 9-for-9 in the doubles portion of its matches this season.
Considering how scoring works for college tennis — and how the three doubles matches are played before the six singles matches — getting that early doubles point is vitally important, and it’s that initial boost which has helped the Wildcats tie the 1989 team for best start in program history.
The pairings of Strong Kirchheimer/Dominik Stary and Sam Shropshire/Konrad Zieba are a combined 14-1 so far, which leaves opponents without much margin of error in the doubles portion of matches.
Singles, led by Kirchheimer (14-5 overall), Jason Seidman (10-4), true freshman Stary (11-2) and Zieba (9-4), has also been great for Northwestern, as the Wildcats have mostly won their matches with ease, as only January 15th’s season-opening 4-3 win over Vanderbilt made all six singles matches necessary.
The Wildcats did run into some trouble on Sunday, as losses by Ben Vandixhorn and Stary — after a 6-3, 6-1 win by Kirchheimer — tied up the match with the Blue Devils at 2 points apiece with three singles matches left to play.
But, a Zieba second set tiebreak win and Shropshire victory pushed the Wildcats ahead, making Seidman’s match at No. 6 irrelevant. A little more excitement than Northwestern has been used to this season, but another win nonetheless.
With road matches against ACC foes sandwiching the ITA National Indoor Team Championship on the docket, the Wildcats will have to set a program record for wins to start a season away from Evanston. They’ll visit N.C. State next Friday and should expect to move up in the Oracle/ITA rankings when they’re released on Wednesday.