Despite visible improvements from last season, the ‘Cats find themselves in a familiar spot at the end of the year: a disappointing first round performance and an early Big Ten tournament exit.
After an optimistic beginning to the season gave fans some hope, #7 Northwestern (14-14, 5-7 B1G) cemented its fall from contention by crashing out of the Big Ten Tournament against #10 Purdue (10-14, 3-8 B1G), a squad they previously beat this year, in a 4-3 defeat.
Simen Bratholm and Ben Vandixhorn were the only Wildcats to win their doubles matchup, defeating Franz Luna and Santiago Galan on court #3, 6-4. With Purdue winning the other two matchups, Northwestern had to climb an uphill battle to advance, but Purdue impressively fought of Northwestern’s singles run to seal the victory in the last game.
Initially, the ‘Cats were in control against an overmatched Boilermakers lineup. Northwestern tied the match at 1-1 with Chris Ephron’s tidy 6-0, 6-2 win over Maksymilian Raupuk, while Jason Seidman, potentially playing in his final game as a Wildcat, defeated Dominik Sochurek by a 6-2, 6-2 scoreline. Antonioni Fasano earned Northwestern’s third point of the game with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Mateo Julio; all signs were pointing to a stirring comeback win.
Purdue, however, held firm by winning each of the next two games against Dominik Stary and Bratholm. With the match tied at 3-3, freshman Trice Pickens entered his third set against Luna having won the previous set 6-2 after dropping the first. Luna was too much in the end, though, winning the last et 7-5 and sending the Boilermakers to the second round to take on Illinois.
It’s another disappointing finish for Northwestern after last season’s first round loss against Iowa, but the shoulder injury to Nick Brookes hampered any chance the ‘Cats had to make a long run into the weekend despite Seidman’s strong performances at the end of the lineup. With only Seidman bound to depart the squad, Northwestern appears primed to make another leap after a five-win improvement this season that apexed when the 'Cats broke the Top 50 at the end of non-conference play. Good health will obviously play a role, but next year much more will, and should, be expected of Coach Swan’s team.