Wildcats’ championship aspirations set on high – team opens dual-match season with win against UIC

By Neel Madhavan
Medill Reports

The Northwestern University women’s tennis team cruised to a 7-0 win over the University of Illinois-Chicago to open the winter/spring dual-match season on Friday night at Combe Tennis Center in Evanston.

“I thought it was a good start,” head coach Claire Pollard said. “We have lots of things to work through. I thought our opposition were very crafty and unpredictable. Looking ahead to Sunday, we’re going to play a team that’s really crafty too, so I think it was good for us.”

Coming off a Big Ten regular season championship and a Round of 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament last season, the Wildcats again have lofty expectations for the season ahead.

“We’re championship hungry,” Pollard said. “We’re always hungry for a championship. Whatever that looks like – if it’s Big Ten, if its national. We try to be the best we can be, and we’ll see where that lands us.”

After winning 11 straight Big Ten titles from 1999-2009, last season’s Big Ten championship was the team’s first since 2012. Northwestern spent the past five years in contention for the title, but ultimately came up short each season.

Northwestern’s Clarissa Hand (left) and Lee Or (right) ready to return during a point at No. 1 doubles. (Neel Madhavan/Medill)

On Friday, Northwestern began with three doubles victories to claim the doubles point for the match.

While in singles, the Wildcats swept all six matches without dropping a set.

At the No. 1 singles position, Clarissa Hand showed why Pollard has so much faith in the young, talented freshman, defeating UIC’s Lejla Colic 6-1, 6-3.

“I think I played pretty well,” Hand said. “(Colic) played much better in the second set. I just had to stay focused and stay disciplined to close it out.”

Northwestern’s Clarissa Hand hits a serve during a match at No. 1 singles. (Neel Madhavan/Medill)

In a tune-up invitational at Miami last week, Hand upset the seventh-ranked singles player in the country, Estela Perez-Somarriba, in straight sets. Perez-Somaribba was named ACC Player of the Year last year as a sophomore and was a national semifinalist in singles at the NCAA tournament as a freshman.

“I thought we played really well at No. 1 doubles after a shaky first game,” Pollard said. “I was also happy with Julie’s (Byrne) performance in singles, and I thought Lee (Or) had a good first match.”

The Wildcats face a much tougher test Sunday afternoon, as they travel to Lawrence, Kansas to face No. 16 Kansas.

“I think it’s going to be a battle,” Pollard said. “It’s going to be a great test for us. I’ll play as tough a schedule as I can find. The program that we’re providing is that we’re challenging you to bring out your best, and you’re going to find out just how good you are here. We’ll find that out on Sunday.”

Photo at top: Northwestern’s Clarissa Hand (right in purple) and Lee Or (left in purple) shake hands with Lucie Prochazkova (left in red) and Karyna Bihel (right in red) after a 6-0 win at No. 1 doubles. (Neel Madhavan/Medill)