For much of this season, Northwestern has used a hot start in doubles to take the pressure off singles. Mostly, that’s worked like a charm for the Wildcats. However, in their opening round NCAA Tournament match, they changed up the formula.
In their 4-2 win over Utah State (23-9, 6-1 Mountain West) on California’s Berkeley campus on Friday afternoon, the Wildcats (22-10, 7-4 Big Ten) lost the initial doubles point and had multiple singles players fight back from deficits en route to a season-extending victory.
Northwestern will move on to play the winner of California-Tennessee Tech in the second round at 3:00 pm CST on Saturday afternoon at Cal’s Hellman Tennis Complex. Cal is the No. 8 overall seed.
Despite Strong Kirchheimer and Dominik Stary’s 19th doubles win of the season, Northwestern went down 1-0. Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba fought back to tie their set at five games apiece, but lost 7-5 in the deciding match.
Kirchheimer, now up to No. 37 nationally and playing in the top singles spot, cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 win to tie the overall score at 1. The Wildcats and Aggies exchanged wins at No. 2 and No. 5, as Zieba won easily for Northwestern while Ben Vandixhorn lost 6-3, 6-2.
All of the remaining matches used the full three sets, and Stary was the first to finish with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 triumph that put Northwestern on the verge of the NCAA second round for the third-straight year.
That left it up for either Shropshire (at No. 3) or Jason Seidman (at No. 6) to win their match to advance the Wildcats on to Saturday’s Round of 32. Shropshire won his first set 6-2 but dropped the second 3-6 and was a game away from falling 4-6 in the final.
However, he held serve and got a key break to go up 6-5 and ended up eking out the win to make Seidman’s match moot.
Assuming Cal takes care of Tennessee Tech, the Wildcats’ second round match will be against one of their best opponents of the season. The Golden Bears are one of the country’s top teams, and have lost just twice since March 18th. Both of those losses were to USC, the No. 4 overall seed, highlighting how tough a task No. 21 Northwestern has ahead of itself.
A full NCAA Tournament bracket can be found here.