Wildcats showed strong start in Big Ten encounters, despite Coach Swan’s leave of absence

Athena Liu

Medill Reports

Northwestern University’s Men’s Tennis team achieved a good 1-1 start in Big Ten play, after falling to No. 6 Illinois 0-4 on Friday night and knocking off Indiana University 4-2 on Sunday morning.

The Wildcats fought with high spirits after a tough week when head coach Arvid Swan took a immediate leave of absence due to  a personal health issue.

“We wish Arvid and his family the best and, in this situation, the team and everyone in Northwestern definitely looks forward to seeing him back at the sideline in the near future,” said Assistant Coach Chris Klingeman, named interim head coach as the team headed into the Big Ten weekend.

Assistant Coach Chris Klingeman coaches the doubles match on Sunday. (Athena Liu/MEDILL)

Facing the nationally ranked University of Illinois in Friday’s home game, Northwestern did not manage to enjoy a victory. After taking the doubles point, Illinois continued their strong performance in singles games, claiming three more points at the No.2, No.3 and No.6 spots. The ‘Cats fought hard but Illinois left few opportunities open. The game finished with the Illini sweeping the Wildcats 4-0.

Klingeman said he was glad that the team could stay strong and focused on the court  without Coach Swan and the tough situation of his leave.

“I thought they managed the situation well and they fought like dogs out there today,” he said Friday after the match with Illinois. “They just came up short.”

But the team would need to improve on their performance on pressure points, the coach said. “We had a lot of deuce point situations today that didn’t go our way,” he said. “And with this scoring format, which is the name of the game – it’s who is going to win these deuce points” that matters.

Antonioni Fasano plays at the No.3 doubles. (Athena Liu/MEDILL)

Northwestern came back in full action on Sunday morning when they beat Indiana with a close 4-2. This is the team’s first victory this March, the first conference game victory this season and the first victory after a three-game losing streak.

The Wildcats started the singles matches with a 0-1 disadvantage after dropping the doubles point, but soon managed to take control of the games as Ben Vandixhorn, Jason Seidman and AJ Joshi took the first set of their match at the No.4, No.5 and No.6 spots, respectively.

Seidman finished the match 6-4, 6-3, leading the overall score to a 1-1 tie, while Joshi added another point for Northwestern with a 6-3, 7-6(2) victory over Brandon Lam of Indiana. Although facing challenges in the second set, Vandixhorn took advantage of his powerful serves and delicate volley skills to see off his opponent Bennett Crane with a three-set triumph 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.

Freshman player Nick Brookes delivered the deciding point at the No.2 spot. He had a slow start, dropped the first set 3-6, but stuck to his attacking strategy and forced his opponent to move around the court for defense. With the support from teammates and audience, the freshman erased the 0-1 deficit and went on to wrap up the game 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 with a goodbye ace.

“It’s probably one of my strongest serves in the match,” said Brookes on his stirring serve that commanded Sunday’s win for the whole team. “I was just trying to think of that serve as if back on the training court and apply that naturally.”

Nick Brookes completes a comeback to earn the deciding point in Sunday’s game. (Athena Liu/MEDILL)

Since the start of this dual season, Brookes has been moving steadily from No. 4 singles to No. 2. He made the most of his 6-feet-6-inches in height and his outstanding strength to play more offensively.

“Something I really need to do is trying to come forward more,” he said. “In last couples of weeks I’ve been really trying to focus on that and trying to make some big improvement there.”

Under the current situation, the Wildcats needed this win to cheer themselves up and hone their mind-set. “We’ve had an up-and-down season so far,” said Vandixhorn after Sunday’s game. I think this [victory] was a great morale booster for us.”

Klingeman said that the team still needs to work on doubles skills. In many games throughout the season, the Wildcats were just one step away from nailing down the doubles point, but failed to do so.

Klingeman said he believes these underclassmen need a little more time to trigger the chemistry between each other.

Freshman player Antonioni Fasano and sophomore Chris Ephron celebrate a score at No.3 doubles. (Athena Liu/MEDILL)

“This season, we have a couple of younger guys – they haven’t fallen in our way. But I think we can use this to springboard a little bit and get some confidence for the doubles point,” Klingeman said.

The team will take a two-week spring break before heading to Lubbock, Texas, to play Texas Tech on March 28. The last nine games for the Wildcats in this dual season will all be conference games, starting with a road game against Nebraska on March 30.

“We play one of the toughest tennis conferences in the country,” said the coach. “The intensity is always high, but there is definitely a little bit more when it comes to the Big Ten season.”

Photo at top: Ben Vandixhorn dominates the game again Indiana University at set three. (Athena Liu/MEDILL)