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Tennis: Men’s and women’s teams look to maintain momentum despite turnover

Subsequent to encouraging outings and high rankings, the Wildcats will hit the courts with some bravado in 2023.

@NUMensTennis on Twitter.

At Northwestern, success in any sport is rightly celebrated, with teams’ coaches revered for continued dominance and sustained high levels of play. By that standard, a sport that should be held in higher regard among Wildcat circles is tennis.

Last season, both the NU men’s and women’s tennis squads reached the NCAA Tournament, each of which had secured a berth for the second season in a row. Though Arvid Swan and the men lost to No. 8 Kentucky in the Second Round and Claire Pollard and the women fell to Wake Forest in the First Round, there remains hope for both programs this upcoming year.

For Swan and the men’s tennis team, the 20 wins it posted in 2021-22 were the most accumulated since 2016-17. Led by Brian Berdusco, Simen Bratholm, Steven Forman and Trice Pickens, Northwestern finished last season ranked 31st by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).

While Swan and the Wildcats brace the departure of Berdusco, the team retains its nucleus of Bratholm-Forman-Pickens, all of whom are now graduate students in a presumptive swan song. On top of that, NU added grad transfer Ivan Yatsuk from South Florida, an All-AAC Team selection.

Yatsuk has already made a tremendous impact on the court. The 6-foot-6 Belarusian claimed the Big Ten Singles Championship on Nov. 7, defeating Wisconsin’s Sebastian Vile in three sets. According to ITA’s latest rankings (as of Nov. 16), Yatsuk is No. 97, while Pickens is tied for 110th.

However, Yatsuk was not the only Wildcat to perform well in Ann Arbor. Senior Natan Spear and junior Presley Thieneman earned victories in the main round on Nov. 5, while sophomore Felix Nordby accrued two wins of his own. In terms of doubles, Bratholm and Yatsuk made it to the championship but were edged by Indiana’s Michael Andre and Ilya Tiraspolsky; meanwhile, Nordby/Thieneman and Spear/Gleb Blehker claimed separate wins.

Viewing slightly older results reflects the depth that Swan’s squad possesses. In the Notre Dame Invitational between Oct. 28-30, junior Saiprakash Goli and sophomore Max Bengtsson both reached Round Three of singles play.

Pivoting to Pollard’s team, the Wildcats took a slight step back last season relative to 2020-21, collecting five fewer wins and only reaching the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, Pollard has guided her contingent to the postseason in the last three years the event has occurred.

NU must attempt to replace the production of Clarissa Hand, Ema Lazic and Hannah McColgan this upcoming campaign, which is no simple feat. On the bright side, Hand’s younger sister Christina is ranked No. 54 in ITA’s preliminary poll, and the Wildcats return Maria Shusharina.

In the Miami Fall Invite from Nov. 4-6, Hand posted an unblemished 2-0 mark in singles play, including notching a win over then-No. 66 Isabella Pfennig of Miami in straight sets. Likewise, first-year Jennifer Riester also went 2-0 in singles, and sophomore Justine Leong and senior Briana Crowley took one match apiece. Regarding doubles, Crowley/Sydney Pratt and Aino Alkio/Kiley Rabjohns each won both of their matches.

While Swan and the men’s tennis team seeks a memorable culmination with an older core of talent, Pollard and the women’s ‘Cats look to make noise with a prominent veteran and complementary youngsters.

The women’s team starts official play Saturday, Jan. 14 at Combe Tennis Center vs. UIC and Chicago State at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT, respectively. Moreover, the men’s team begins play against fellow NCAA Tournament participant Notre Dame on Jan. 15 at 12 p.m. CT in Evanston, followed by battles with 2022 Super Regional qualifier NC State and Chicago State the next day.