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Women’s Tennis: Wildcats start strong, advance to ITA Indoor Championship

Two victories over top-20 opponents!

Kentucky v Penn State Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Northwestern women’s tennis kicked off its season with two impressive wins this past weekend. The Wildcats opened with a 4-3 over No. 8 North Carolina State in Raleigh at the International Tennis Association Kickoff on Sunday and followed up that victory with another over No. 16 Wake Forest in the Regional Final to clinch a berth to the 2021 ITA Indoor Championship.

First-year Maria Shusharina stepped up for the ‘Cats in the first singles spot, earning a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 21 Anna Campana of Wake Forest. Junior Clarissa Hand clawed out a hard-fought, three-set victory in the third singles slot to clinch the team victory for the Wildcats.

That’s a positive sign for a team hoping to rebound from a season in which it went 5-6 overall (1-1 Big Ten) before the pandemic cut things short. The ‘Cats return all key players from last year’s squad, including all-Big Ten graduate student Julie Byrne. Byrne, a native of Dublin, Ireland, is ranked No. 57 in the nation. She ended the 2019-20 season on a six-match win streak.

The team’s first event of the year took place at the Michigan Invitational scrimmaging Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. While it wasn’t an officially scored team event, Northwestern’s individual players went 7-16 in singles and 9-3 in doubles. It’s encouraging to see the team play so well in doubles and rebound from a mediocre singles performance with two ranked wins to start the season.

Graduate transfer Zoë Spence will be a player to watch this season. She recently transferred from Notre Dame and returned home to Chicago to join the Wildcats. She earned a 4-4 mark from the top spot in the lineup during her senior season for the Irish, and Northwestern women’s tennis head coach Claire Pollard presumably looks forward to adding a player with so much experience and talent to the lineup.

First-year Maria Shusharina is another player to keep an eye on. The Russian has already earned a victory over a top-25 player and Pollard said she had high expectations for Shusharina even before she got here.

“It has been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a player’s maturity, organization, and commitment,” Pollard said when Shusharina signed her National Letter of Intent last year.

Sophomore Briana Crowley also looks to build off a season in which she finished 4-3 in singles and 5-4 in doubles. She earned an impressive 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 38 Adriana Reami of NC State and dominated her Wake Forest opponent in the fourth singles slot.

NU last advanced to the ITA Indoors two years ago and won back-to-back titles in the event in 2009 and 2010. The eight-team event will take place February 5-7 at Oklahoma State.