This year the very successful Northwestern University women’s tennis program looked to do little and started the season unranked. Head coach Claire Pollard and her Wildcats had won Big Ten titles from 1999-2014 without interruption, 16 consecutive seasons, 16 consecutive Big Ten conference or tournament titles. With three highly-ranked Big Ten rivals this might have been Pollard's first class to leave NU without a conference trophy. Unranked at the start of the season they proceeded to knock off three top seven teams (Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Illinois) in a two-week window and then finished the regular season by winning 16 of their final 17, which also included road wins over Michigan and Ohio State, to win the Big Ten regular season title outright.
The Wildcats came within a whisker of also winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship before falling in a 4-3 heartbreaker to Michigan. The Cats were selected as the No. 14 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will host a regional with a first-round match against MAC Champion Buffalo. What follows are some questions and answers that head coach Claire Pollard generously provided for College Tennis Today.
Q: Claire, first of all congratulations on an outstanding 2018 season. Your team started this season unranked before beating SEC champions Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and three ranked Big Ten teams to become outright Big Ten champions. What do you think of polls and how did you engineer your team’s mindset to reach up and get those big wins?
CP: I'm not concerned with opinion and that's all the rankings are at the start of the year. It’s an impossible task at the start of the year except for a few no brainer teams. I've always concerned myself with what we can control which is development and getting the most out of ourselves at all times. If we do that, results and rankings will take care of themselves when it really matters (the end of the season).
For the most part Friday was a pretty dull day but Saturday delivered us some gems including two big comeback wins. I'll start with the upset of the day which came in Stillwater when Illinois rallied from 3-0 down to stun No. 11 seed Oklahoma State 4-3. The Cowboys took the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 and then each team took three opening sets in singles. Oklahoma State seniors Lucas Gerch and Lukas Finzelberg made quick work of their opponents at No. 3 and No. 6 to make it 3-0 but Illinois started winning all the close sets and got back in the match.
Aron Hiltzik put the Illini on the board with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 2 which elicited a big fist pump from head coach Brad Dancer and then both Aleks Kovacevic and Zeke Clark would win their matches within seconds of each other to tie it up at 3-3. Clark came back from a 4-0 first set deficit to take the set 6-4 and then he won the second set in a tiebreak by a 10-8 score. Kovacevic had a chance to close his match out in straight sets but after failing to do so he won the third set 6-0.
Illinois junior Aleks Vukic, who missed yesterday's match against Drake, would get the clincher with a 7-6, 7-6 win over Julian Cash at No. 1. Illinois is headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two years and in doing so that means that an unseeded team has advanced to the Sweet 16 every year since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
Georgia Tech junior Chris Eubanks accepted a main draw wild card into the BB&T Atlanta Open, which is an ATP 250 event, with his opening round match scheduled for Tuesday, July 25. Eubanks has played in the main draw of the Atlanta event two years in a row though he had to go through qualies last year to do so. Eubanks has been ranked in the ITA Top 10 all year and was recently named the ACC Men's Player of the Year for the second year in a row. For more information see the release from the BB&T Atlanta Open.
The NCAA Division II Men's Round of 16 got underway today in Altamonte Springs, Florida, with #1 West Florida, #2 Barry, #3 Columbus State, #4 Hawaii Pacific, #14 Azusa Pacific, #16 Ferris State, #18 Drury, and #23 Southwest Baptist moving on to tomorrow's quarterfinal round. Of those eight winners the only lower ranked team to win was Southwest Baptist which defeated #20 St. Mary's (TX) 5-3. The highest profile matchup in the quarterfinals will be #1 West Florida taking on #4 Hawaii Pacific. For the men's bracket click here and to see individual match results click here. The women's round of 16 gets started tomorrow though I see that #1 BYU-Hawaii and #2 Barry are in the same quarterfinal so I'm not sure what's going on with the bracket making at the D2 level. The bracket is available here and the box scores from each match are available here. The brackets don't have any seeds listed (guess they don't do that?) so it's kind of hard to tell who is the better team without going through the rankings.
Sunday was as wild a day as it gets in the SEC with four lower ranked women's teams picking up wins with two of those wins coming over No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Georgia. The SEC is the only Power 5 Women's Conference to have its conference tournament this coming week so many of these same teams will see each other much sooner than they had probably hoped. Sunday was a day of redemption for some teams on the men's side with both Oregon and Michigan overcoming tough losses to pick up a top 25 win.
Both TCU and Oklahoma State picked up big wins on Sunday with OSU defeating Texas for the first time in 10 years while TCU won in Norman for the first time since April 1977. We'll start with the Oklahoma State/Texas match which started outdoors before going indoors after the doubles point due to rain. Oklahoma State won the doubles point for the 17th time in 22 matches after picking up wins at No. 1 and No. 2 while Texas won at No. 3. Oklahoma State took four opening sets in singles and Arjun Kadhe and Lucas Gerch won in straight sets at No. 2 and No. 3 to make it 3-0. Texas's Leo Telles won in straight sets at No. 5 and Texas earned splits at No. 1 and No. 6 after dropping the first set while George Goldhoff dropped the second set at No. 4 after winning the first.
Goldhoff ended up winning in three sets to close the gap to 3-2 but Oklahoma State was right at the finish line at both No. 1 and No. 6. OSU's Julian Cash was serving up 6-3 in the third set tiebreak at No. 1 but before he could hit that next serve his teammate Tristan Meraut held on the no-ad point to close out Rodrigo Banzer 6-1, 6-7, 6-3 at No. 6. Below are clips of the match point from two different angles courtesy of Oklahoma State and below that is head coach Jay Udwadia talking about the big W.
Second-ranked Ohio State played its first outdoor match of the year this afternoon at No. 10 Florida and despite dropping the doubles point the Buckeyes would come back strong in singles to win it 4-1. Florida's Josh Wardell and Chase Perez-Blanco dropped the opening game of their match at No. 3 but they'd win the next five and eventually close it out 6-2. Ohio State's Hugo Di Feo and Martin Joyce served for the match at No. 2 up 5-4 but Florida's Maxx Lipman and Elliott Orkin broke Joyce from 15/40 to even it at 5-all. Over at No. 1, Florida's Alfredo Perez and Johannes Ingildsen jumped out to a 2-0 lead but Ohio State's Mikael Torpegaard and Herkko Pollanen broke and held for 2-2. Florida would hold for 3-2 and break on the no-ad point for 4-2 but Ohio State would break back from 30/40 and hold for 4-4. After three consecutive holds, Florida would break the Pollanen serve on the no-ad point to win it 7-5. On the no-ad point, Perez drilled the return at Torpegaard, who was at the net, and Torpegaard's volley sailed long to give Florida the win.
The opening day of the 2017 Men's National Team Indoor Championships is in the books and it was an action packed day that saw one exciting dual-match after another. Each of the four time slots had at least one close match and the 3:30 time slot had two close ones. The top two seeds, Virginia and Wake Forest, faced the least resistance while the No. 3 seed Ohio State faced some resistance but managed to close out enough courts before Oklahoma could get on the board. The UCLA/USC match was the only one to finish with a 4-3 score while four matches finished 4-2.
There was only one men's match on Friday that took place between ranked teams and it happened in Columbus as No. 3 Ohio State ran its record to 8-0 with an anything but easy 4-1 win over No. 15 Kentucky. The doubles point on the other hand was pretty easy with the Buckeyes winning big at No. 2 and No. 3. Ohio State rode the momentum from the doubles point into singles and took four opening sets but Kentucky managed to get splits on two of those courts. Kentucky's Nils Ellefsen tied the match with a straight set win at No. 4 but Ohio State countered with straight set wins from Mikael Torpegaard and Herkko Pollanen at No. 1 and No. 5. Each of the remaining matches were in third sets but Ohio State sophomore Kyle Seelig would pull away from Kentucky's Enzo Wallart to clinch the match with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win at No. 6.
The Tennis Recruiting Network (TRN) released it's Winter Rankings of the Top 25 Women's Recruiting Classes for the Class of 2017 and coming in at No. 1 was Jeff Wallace's Georgia Bulldogs. Wallace signed a pair of blue chippers for next fall in Oklahoma's Morgan Coppoc (11.16) and California's Annette Goulak (10.67) along with Katarina Jokic (12.23) from Bosnia/Herzegovina. Coppoc is the top rated recruit in the Gulf States and has been ranked as high as sixth in the country while Goulak is the fourth rated recruit in California and has been ranked as high as 19th in the country. Jokic achieved a career high ITF junior ranking of 36 and has been ranked as high as 604 in the WTA rankings.
UCLA's Stella Sampras Webster signed TRN's No. 2 class with Illinois's Caroline Dolehide (12.40) and Louisiana's Helen Altick (10.53) set to join the Bruins next fall. Dolehide has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country while Altick has been ranked as high as No. 12. To view the entire top 25 click on this link.
The fourth Pac-12/SEC Challenge is in the books and the big winner from the weekend was the Florida Gators. Florida had only won one match at this event over the last three years but this year they doubled that number with a win over USC yesterday and today they took out UCLA 4-2. Florida started off the match in a 1-0 hole after UCLA won the doubles point with 6-4 wins at No. 1 and No. 3. The key point at No. 3 doubles came when UCLA's Max Cressy was serving at 4-4 (40/40). Florida's Elliott Orkin and McClain Kessler were in control of the point and had an overhead at the net to get the break but Cressy used his quick reflexes to block back the shot and it turned into a lob winner. Cressy and Gage Brymer would break Orkin on the next game to get the win. The doubles decider at No. 1 ended when Martin Redlicki hit a service return winner at 30/40 to give he and Evan Zhu the win.