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Iowa travels to Northwestern

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Saturday is the Iowa women’s tennis team’s (14-4, 4-3) opportunity to establish itself as a top contender in the Big Ten and the NCAA. The Hawkeyes will travel to Evanston, Ill., to face No. 9 Northwestern (14-6, 5-1).

The Wildcats have dominated the Big Ten for the past decade and have won 11-straight conference titles under head coach Claire Pollard.

But perhaps even more impressive for Northwestern is its streak against the Hawkeyes; it has defeated Iowa the past six seasons. Even in 2006, when the Hawkeyes went 9-1 in the Big Ten, their only loss was to the Wildcats.

Despite Northwestern’s propensity to consistently add a loss to Iowa’s record, this year could be different. Junior Jessica Young said she likes the odds of her team coming out on top.

“We’re going in to win the match,” she said. “We know they’ve had some losses recently and have some holes in their team. Previous years, we didn’t believe in ourselves, but they have some losses in their lineup, which should give us some good matchups.”

The Wildcats are on a two-game losing streak, and they have dropped five of their last six matches, most recently losing to No. 20 Texas on the road, 6-1, on April 10. Before that, Northwestern fell to No. 2 Baylor on April 9.

Despite their recent failures, the Wildcats are still ranked in the top 10 and have only one blemish on their Big Ten record — a 4-3 home loss to No. 4 Michigan on April 3.

Iowa suffered a 6-1 loss to Michigan on March 27. Unlike the Wildcats, however, the Hawkeyes have not fared well in Big Ten play. The team has also lost to conference opponents Minnesota and Illinois earlier in the season.

Another cause for concern is Northwestern’s roster, which is full of nationally ranked players.
In doubles play, Lauren Lui and Elena Chernyakova are ranked No. 21 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. And in singles play, Northwestern has two ranked singles players — No. 37 Samantha Murray and No. 13 Maria Mosolova.

Sophomore Sonja Molnar will face off against Mosolova at the No. 1 spot in Saturday’s match. Last fall, Molnar faced Mosolova in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Regional tournament quarterfinals and lost in two sets (6-4, 7-6).

Molnar credited her opponent’s performance and her ability to drive the ball low and flat across the court. However, the sophomore also said she believes she is more prepared this time around.

“I’ve played her once before. I think that a big part of the match will be mental,” she said. “Like any other player, she has weaknesses. In the fall, I came up short. I just didn’t believe I could beat her. This time I have more knowledge of what to expect from her, and I’m able to compete better now.”

If Iowa defeats Northwestern, the team will be on pace to receive a high seed in the Big Ten Tournament on April 29 and boost its national ranking.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity to help our rankings and our record,” assistant coach Mira Radu said. “Northwestern is struggling right now compared with the last few years. The key to winning is us believing in ourselves, and everyone on the team knowing that she can win.”


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