In her 12 seasons with the Cats, Coach Claire Pollard has experienced nothing but success. The women’s tennis team has won 11 consecutive Big Ten titles, received a number one ranking and had back-to-back number one seeds in the NCAA Championships. Most recently, she coached her team to the ITA National Indoor championship. Pollard, however, is experiencing something in the 2010 season that is completely foreign. The team is facing tough teams and losing.
“This year is sort of more of a human year,” Pollard said. “We’re a little bit more human, and we’re having our ups and downs like any other team.”
Pollard thinks that it has been tough for the girls because they have never had to experience losing both in conference and non-conference play. Northwestern had won 81 consecutive duals against Big Ten opponents, a streak that ended in their match against Michigan on April 3.
“We got beat by a great team that’s having an outstanding year,” Pollard said. “That is what we hoped our league would become, so you know you got to be careful of what you wish for.”
The Wildcats have also struggled against non-conference opponents, recently losing back to back against No.1 Baylor and Texas. During the Texas dual, doubles partners Stacey Lee and Linda Abu Mushrefova fought well but lost the tiebreaker 9-7. School of Communication sophomore Lee has seen the struggles as a sign of the team’s youth.
“We are battling through a couple losses right now,” Lee said, “but I feel like we are finally turning a corner, we’re going to start improving, and we can definitely see more wins in the future.”
Abu Mushrefova, a freshman in Weinberg, said that the important thing to do now for Northwestern is to keep their confidence up. The individual matches have not been blow outs. The competition across the NCAA has improved and the talent is rampant.
“We have been working hard,” Abu Mushrefova said. “We are kind of looking at ourselves more as the underdogs now.”
Pollard said that the team is learning how to be resilient. Balancing the ups and downs of the season has been hard for the competitive team, but it certainly has not been all downs. The Cats conference loss came at the hands of the Wolverines, but they have won convincingly against the rest of the Big Ten.
“We are trying to finish out the season strong with these last couple of dual matches and enjoy ourselves,” Abu Mushrefova said. “We are trying to have more fun and go into the Big Ten as the underdogs and try to take them out.”
The Cats play their last two home duals this weekend against Iowa and Minnesota. They look to improve their 14-5 (5-1) record before finishing the season at Penn State and Ohio State, and making their way to the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA championships. Before they get there, the Cats lineup may change a little. Pollard admits she does not know what the doubles lineup is going to be yet.
“I’ve been racking my brain,” she said. “It’s been a difficult area for us all year. It’s not something we have ever solidified.”
Pollard said she has yet to be satisfied with the lineups she has produced thus far, but she looks forward to seeing how the Cats can fair down the stretch. The expectations had been high for the Cats, and these girls are not used to losing. Pollard said she does not want them to get used to the feeling and believes that the seniors can help lead the team by example.
“I think that hasn’t been a problem,” said Pollard. “I just think we may have been asking people to play roles that maybe we should not have been asking them to play.”
The coaches have been mentoring the seniors to lead by words and help in a season Pollard described as being not the fairy tales she is used to. The Cats certainly have strong players and the talent to make a run in Athens, Ga. The No. 5 Cats will still be looking to achieve the NCAA’s greatest happy ending.