March 7, 2012
No. 44 Northwestern (7-5, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 20 Illinois (7-3, 2-0 Big Ten)
Friday, March 9
Combe Tennis Center
Evanston, Ill. 6 p.m.
Live Stats: NUsports.com
In-game Twitter updates: @NU_SportsLIVE
EVANSTON, Ill. -- With the nonconference schedule in the rearview mirror, the 49th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats open Big Ten play on Friday evening, March 9 against instate rival No. 20 Illinois at Combe Tennis Center in Evanston, Ill.
The 'Cats, who moved up five slots in this week's Campbell/ITA team rankings, wrapped up their nonconference schedule this spring with seven wins, including five victories on the purple courts of Combe. The Illini come north with seven wins of their own in 2012, including two in Big Ten play. Illinois defeated Nebraska and Iowa by identical 6-1 scores last weekend, while Northwestern has yet to play a Big Ten match.
Raleigh Keeps Rolling
Sophomore Raleigh Smith leads the Wildcats this season with nine wins in singles play. The Florida native opened the spring with seven straight victories. He has won five times at No. 4, three times at No. 3 and once at No. 5. Smith has also teamed with Alex Pasareanu to post seven doubles wins.
Climbing The Charts
Northwestern has received strong contributions to its lineup from a pair of freshmen this spring. Nikhil Jayashankar has won seven singles matches, while classmate Alex Pasareanu has earned six victories. Six of Jayashankar's successes have come at the No. 6 spot, while Pasareanu has collected five of his six victories at No. 5. Their wins account for 31 percent of NU's team total this spring.
After opening the season unranked, the 'Cats have climbed to No. 44 in the Campbell/ITA team rankings this week. Northwestern debuted this season at No. 65 on Jan. 24 and have risen steadily since. Arvid Swan's
team checked in at No. 49 in last week's edition of the poll.
Graves Garners Weekly Honor
Following a four-win performance on the season's opening day, senior Josh Graves was named the Co-Big Ten Player of the Week. Graves won singles matches against Ball State and UIC and partnered with Spencer Wolf to win twice on the doubles court against those same teams. The weekly accolade was the second of his career (1/26/10).
Two Wildcats were teammates even before coming to Evanston. Chirs Jackman and Raleigh Smith were teammates at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Fla. The school won state championships in three of four seasons in which Jackman played and all four years that Smith attended (Smith is a year younger). Jackman was the Florida Player of the Year in 2008 and Smith was a three-time individual champion.
Hungry Like Spencer
Junior Spencer Wolf has emerged as one of the most consistent threats in Northwestern's lineup this year. The Floridian has won matches at each of the top three singles lines, with five of his eight singles wins coming at No. 2. He's also won six doubles matches with Josh Graves and another three with Eric Spector. All totaled, Wolf has a combined record of 17-7 this spring.
Scouting the Illini
Illinois comes into Combe ranked No. 20 in the country according to the latest Campbell/ITA rankings. The Illini are 7-3 this spring with a pair of conference wins included in that total. Last weekend, the orange and blue opened up away from home with 6-1 victories over both Nebraska and Iowa.
Individually, Illinois boasts a pair of players in the top-25 of the national rankings. Returning All-American Dennis Nevolo is the fourth-ranked singles player in the country, while teammate Roy Kalmanovich is 21st. That duo combined composes the 41st-ranked doubles team, according to the ITA.
Northwestern currently trails the all-time series against its instate rival, 54-38, while two matches were called in ties. The 'Cats are looking for their first win against Illinois since May 10, 1997.
High School Night
Friday marks the second of two High School nights hosted by the 'Cats this season. Dozens of high school teams from around the area are expected to attend an exciting night of Big Ten tennis. Admission, as always, is free and free pizza will be served during the match.
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook! and subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter to receive the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!