May 12, 2012
DURHAM, N.C. -- Northwestern made its first appearance in an NCAA Championship match since 2009 Saturday, but the Wildcats were ultimately undone by No. 23 LSU, 4-0, at the Ambler Tennis Stadium in Durham, N.C.
"We're obviously disappointed, but the match was much closer than the final score indicated," said Northwestern head coach Arvid Swan. "Our team battled one of the best lineups in the country from top to bottom today. It was a tremendous experience for our guys and hopefully one that they will use to build on moving forward.
"Aside from our great senior class, no one on the roster has been able to experience an NCAA tournament match until today," said Swan. "Now that everyone has tasted it, my hope is that they will be even hungrier to make it back here next year."
The Wildcats, ranked No. 43 in the latest ITA poll, were unable to dent the scoreboard first Saturday morning because the Tigers captured the coveted doubles point by winning the top two matches.
LSU's top tandem of Neal Skupski and Chris Simpson entered the NCAA Championship ranked No. 24 in the Campbell's ITA doubles poll and they proved to be too much for Northwestern's Josh Graves and Spencer Wolf to handle on this day. The Wildcats, themselves ranked No. 75, went down quickly by a score of 8-1.
NU's most prolific team in doubles play this season has been the pairing of sophomore Raleigh Smith and freshman Alex Pasareanu. The underclassmen posted 15 wins overall in doubles and a record of 14-6 on the second line. On Saturday they were pitted against LSU's Oliver Borsos and Roger Anderson, both juniors. The 'Cats gave them a valiant fight, but in the end, Smith and Pasareanu ran out of steam and fell 8-4. The win gave the Tigers the doubles point heading into the break.
The No. 3 doubles tilt was perhaps the tightest of the day. Northwestern's Tobias Reitz
and Sidarth Balaji
battled Tom Knights and Stefan Szacinski back-and-forth throughout and trailed 7-5 when the match was abandoned because the point had been awarded to the Tigers by virtue of their wins on the other two courts.
"[LSU] got up on us early and that set the tone a little bit," said Swan. "We wanted to come out and play aggressively and that led to a few costly mistakes."
Once the six singles matches began two 'Cats in particular got off to promising starts. It was Smith and Pasareanu, both of whom competed in their first-ever NCAA Championship Saturday, who harnessed early leads. Smith, who was battling No. 100 Chris Simpson, won the first three games of his match to seize some early momentum. Pasareanu did even better, winning four straight games to open his set with Szacinski.
Several other Wildcats began to find a rhythm midway through the set. No. 2 Wolf, No. 4 Balaji and No. 6 Chris Jackman each dropped the first three games of their respective sets, but each player won two of the next three sets to cut the deficit to two at 4-2. Jackman continued to play with confidence against James Turbervill and reeled off three straight winners to tie the affair at four games apiece.
While Balaji lost the first set with Knights, 6-3, NU's top singles player, Graves, was staging a ferocious comeback of his own on court one. He too trailed 3-0 out of the gate against Borsos, who entered the weekend ranked No. 35 in the ITA singles poll. Graves recovered like so many of his Northwestern teammates and got to within one game at 4-3.
Pasareanu held on to win his premiere frame, 6-3, but the top three Wildcats all dropped their openers. Jackman kept applying pressure to Turbervill, however, and he completed a terrific comeback to win the first set, 7-5.
Balaji quickly erased the memory of his first-set defeat by winning the first five games in the second. Knights claimed three in a row himself, but Balaji was able to hold him off to win 6-3 and force a decisive third set.
Skupski earned the first singles point for LSU when he finished off Wolf, 6-3, in the second set. A short time later, Simpson gave the nation's 23rd-ranked team a 3-0 lead when he erased Smith by scores of 6-4, 6-2.
The overall outcome of the match was ultimately decided in the third set between Balaji and Knights at No. 4. The two players split the first two games, then Knights collected three straight games to establish an insurmountable 4-1 lead. Balaji would get no closer than three games the rest of the way before falling 6-2.
"I was proud of the way so many guys battled today," said Swan. "We had some early holes across the courts, but no one quit. Every single player in the lineup battled until the very end."
When the match was called, Pasareanu led the third set 1-0 after losing the second against Szacinski, while Jackman and Graves each trailed by one in their second stanzas.
Despite the loss Saturday, the Wildcats enjoyed one of the most successful campaigns in recent history. Northwestern returned to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence and the squad won seven Big Ten matches, its highest total since 2001. The 'Cats also put together two separate five-match winning streaks for the first time since 1997.
1. No. 24 Neal Skupski/Chris Simpson (LSU) def. No. 75 Josh Graves/Spencer Wolf (NU) - 8-1
2. Oliver Borsos/Roger Anderson (LSU) def. Raleigh Smith/Alex Pasareanu (NU) - 8-4
3. Tom Knights/Stefan Szacinski (LSU) vs. Tobias Reitz/Sidarth Balaji (NU) - 7-5 (unfinished)
Order of finish: 1, 2*
1. No. 35 Oliver Borsos (LSU) vs. Josh Graves (NU) 6-3, 6-5 (unfinished)
2. No. 55 Neal Skupski (LSU) def. No. 121 Spencer Wolf (NU) - 6-4, 6-3
3. No. 100 Chris Simpson (LSU) def. Raleigh Smith (NU) - 6-4, 6-2
4. Tom Knights (LSU) def. Sidarth Balaji (NU) - 6-3, 3-6, 6-2
5. Alex Pasareanu (NU) vs. Stefan Szacinski (LSU) - 6-3, 4-6, 1-0 (unfinished)
6. Chris Jackman (NU) vs. James Turbervill (LSU) - 7-5, 2-3 (unfinished)
Order of finish: 2, 3, 4*
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