By Ross Shinberg
The snowy weather and NFL playoff games provided reasonable excuses to stay home from a Wildcats tennis match on Jan. 23. But for Dalton Thieneman, one fan who braved the weather, the match offered a perfect combination of a family and hometown bond.
“I’ve got a little bias with my little brother being on the team,” Thieneman said. His brother, Presley Thieneman, is a sophomore on Northwestern University’s tennis team.
“But second, my family is from the Louisville, Kentucky, area,” Thieneman said. “My little brother actually grew up playing with the Louisville team and the former Louisville coach. So we’ve got that connection as well.”
Presley Thieneman went 12-0 in singles last year, but he could not play Sunday’s match vs. Louisville due to an illness. In his stead was sophomore Saiprakash Goli, who clinched the match for the Wildcats in a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals.
Entering the match, Northwestern faced a difficult task after losing to Memphis two days prior. The home team continued their downward spiral after dropping the opening doubles point.
The Wildcats needed a boost. To their delight, the local faithful provided a strong response.
The match began to turn after seniors Steven Forman and Trice Pickens, as well as first-year Felix Nordby, delivered the Wildcats a late lead with three singles victories. This set up Goli to be the hero.
As fans realized Goli had the potential to win, they drifted down to the far end of the Combe Tennis Center, where Goli was battling Louisville senior David Mizrahi, who had yet to lose a set this season.
This was Goli’s second match of his career after not seeing any action in 2021. To help bring Goli over the finish line against a much more seasoned opponent, fans belted out cheers — “Let’s Go Sai!” Others offered a heckle to Mizrahi — “He doesn’t want to rally!”
Fans who get loud and boisterous cheering for the home team are a key part of Northwestern’s home-court advantage, associate head coach Chris Klingemann said.
“I think it’s not just important to have a lot of fans but also vocal fans who make some noise and cheer and get behind the home team,” Klingemann said. “The players definitely feel the environment down on the court. It definitely gives them a little bit of an edge, and they’re able to play better when we have a good crowd.”
Goli himself let out a roar when his deep backhand shot forced an error from Mizrahi on match point, sealing the match for the Wildcats.
So far this season, Northwestern is 4-1 playing at the Combe Tennis Center. But when the weather improves and play moves outside to the Vandy Christie Tennis Center, having a passionate fan contingent is even more important, according to Klingemann.
“Indoors compared to outdoors, voices echo because you’re indoors. So you can get the place a lot louder with less people,” Klingemann said. “If you took the same amount of fans from indoor to outdoor, it’s probably going to be less noisy outside.”
For as long as snow sits on the ground, matches will be played inside. Fans must brave the cold and the elements to watch the Wildcats play. But if they are anything like Thieneman, the cold never bothered them anyway.
Thieneman joked that the Sunday snow doesn’t get to him. “I’m a Midwest guy. It’s part of it.”
Ross Shinberg is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter @RossShinberg.