Tennis Hawks look to face Wildcats outdoors

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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After splitting matches in road tests against Purdue and Indiana last weekend, the No. 57 Iowa men’s tennis team (8-7, 2-3) will compete in a border battle against the Northwestern Wildcats (10-8, 1-3) at 2 p.m. today at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.

Iowa defeated Northwestern in Iowa City last year in a 6-1 rout, but Northwestern holds an overall advantage in recent meetings, winning five of the last seven contests. Northwestern also boasts a ranked singles player on its roster in Joshua Graves, who is No. 119.

The players are anxious to play their first outdoor home match of the season, something that they have been hoping to do for the past few weeks. As long as the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit — and the wind and rain don’t cause too much trouble — it appears the Hawkeyes will get their wish. Junior Will Vasos said the team has been practicing heavily outdoors, and he believes it will pay dividends.

“I hit as many balls as I can,” he said. “Working on serving and getting outdoors and used to outdoors, you have wind and getting used to the elements. Hopefully, it all pays off in the end.”

The Hawkeyes have played four matches outdoors this season, going 3-1 without a roof over their heads. Three of those matches were in sunny Florida on its spring trip, however; the only outdoor Big Ten contest came last weekend at Purdue, where Iowa had to rally to secure a 4-3 victory. Head coach Steve Houghton believes outdoor home matches are a recipe for success for his players, and he said they gain extra motivation from competing at home.

“Our team has played better at home,” he said. “It’s a real boost, guys are looking forward to playing outdoors. The Purdue match was extremely windy; as long as conditions are suitable, our guys would prefer outside.”

The Hawkeyes have jumped 17 spots in the rankings since the beginning of the season, when they were ranked 74th out of 75 teams. The rankings are important for qualifying for the field of 64 teams in the NCAA championship — which begins May 19 in Stanford, Calif., — and Houghton thinks the next stretch of matches will be the most important in determining if his squad makes the cut.

“It’s been close the last couple of years,” he said. “We need to be in the upper half of the Big Ten to make it. We probably need to be ranked in the 40s. We need good wins. We have five Big Ten matches left — we need to win at least half of those.”

It appears to be the coach’s job to worry about the rankings though, most of the players don’t think much of it. Garret Dunn believes that the number associated with the team doesn’t matter as much as one would think.

“The ranking doesn’t make a difference,” the sophomore said. “I mean some guys look, but it doesn’t make a difference if we’re 157 or 57. We’re ready to go regardless of what it is.”

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