After a couple of impressive victories against Michigan State and Purdue, Northwestern men’s tennis suffered a pair of crushing defeats against No. 43 Penn State and Big Ten frontrunner No. 3 Ohio State this past week. With the losses, the ‘Cats dropped to 9-14 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten, continuing their uneven conference play in the midst of a season characterized by growing pains.
Against Penn State (14-9, 4-4 B1G), the ‘Cats dropped a tight doubles point despite another strong performance by Chris Ephron at doubles No. 3, who entered the match with an unbeaten record in the Big Ten and a 10-game unbeaten streak. Ephron, along with Antonioni Fasano, took the first double point, but the Nittany Lion pair of Christian Lakoseljac and Ben Liebason defeated Jason Seidman and Nick Brookes 7-5 to take the point.
Ephron followed up his doubles win with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Zach Lieb to tie the match, but Penn State drilled the Wildcats in the remaining singles matches. Although Brookes, Fasano and Ben Vandixhorn took a game apiece against their respective opponents, the Nittany Lions cruised to a 6-1 victory to get to .500 in Big Ten play. Once again, Ephron was a bright spot for Northwestern, but frustratingly, the rest of the team struggled against a Nittany Lions roster without any ranked players. We are used to the ‘Cats slipping up against talented lineups, but Penn State entered the match with a worse Big Ten record; winning games they are supposed to win should be an imperative for Coach Arvid Swan next year.
Against heavily-favored No. 3 Ohio State (24-2, 9-0), on the Buckeyes’ senior night, Northwestern wilted against the Buckeyes’ dominant singles players. The Buckeyes took two quick wins in doubles to earn the point, before winning all six singles matches in convincing fashion. Only Seidman was able to take a set against Ohio State, who were led by the No. 4 singles player in the nation, Mikael Torpegaard.
Senior Mikael Torpegaard fittingly gets the clincher for the Buckeyes with a 6-1, 7-5 win. Ohio State gets the W on Senior Day #GoBucks— Ohio State M Tennis (@OhioState_MTEN) April 15, 2018
Although it would have taken a miracle to defeat Ohio State, Swan needs to find ways to compete against the class of the Big Ten. With this roster composed of primarily freshmen, sophomores and juniors, we may need to wait next year to see the results of competing against the best of the conference, but so far this season, men’s tennis has not demonstrated the growth expected after a promising, competitive start. Swan has messed around with his lineups, but, with the exception of No. 1 Dominik Stary, all other positions seem to be in flux. With just next week’s doubleheader against Minnesota and Wisconsin left on the schedule, Swan needs to find answers soon before the team prepares for the offseason.
Northwestern will play at Combe next Friday, April 20, against Minnesota, and on Sunday, April 22, against Wisconsin to finish the year.