Feb. 27, 2014
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The upcoming weekend is a tale of endings and beginnings, as the Wildcats finish out their preliminary non-conference slate before starting Big Ten competition. NU travels to No. 38 Louisville on Friday to play at 3 p.m., and return home to host in-state foe No. 7 Illinois in both teams' Big Ten opener. The match also starts at 3 p.m.
Currently 10-4 on the season, Northwestern is now ranked No. 23 in the nation. This is six spots above their previous position and their highest of 2014. Both weekend opponents are also on upward swings: Illinois jumped seven spots and Louisville climbed ten from their previous ranks.
Senior Raleigh Smith skyrocketed in the singles rankings to No. 44, a career-high and far above his previous spot at No. 111. Over the past couple weeks, Smith defeated two top-40 opponents: Notre Dame's 37th-ranked Greg Andrews and North Carolina State's 33rd-ranked Austin Powell.
Freshman Sam Shropshire slipped to No. 85, just four below his previous rank at No. 81. Recent notable victories include beating Harvard's No. 103 Shaun Chaudhuri and N.C. State's No. 100 Robbie Mudge.
The Wildcats now boast a ranked doubles team as well - Smith and sophomore Mihir Kumar come in at No. 21. The duo posted two marquee wins over top-20 opponents in the past two weeks, first over No. 17 Greg Andrews and Alex Lawson of Notre Dame, and then over No. 14 Casey MacMaster and Denis Nguyen of Harvard.
Northwestern and Louisville are familiar non-conference opponents and have split their last two meetings. The Cardinals took the 2012 match 5-2, but the 'Cats claimed a 4-1 victory last year at home. Louisville is currently 7-2 on the season and beat Virgina Tech and lost to Wake Forest last weekend.
Illinois has given Northwestern fits in the past few years in the Big Ten. Last year, the Illini played spoiler to NU's conference season opener and in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Presently 6-4 on the season, Illinois will be coming off a bye week after competing in the ITA National Indoor Championships two weeks ago.
The Illini have a trio of ranked players in their top three: No. 8 Jared Hiltzik, No. 23 Farris Gosea, and No. 33 Tim Kopinski. Hiltzik and Kopinski also make up one half of two ranked doubles teams. Kopinski and Ross Guignon are ranked No. 4, and Hiltzik and Alex Jesse are No. 45.
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