April 26, 2006
All 11 women's tennis teams will head to Champaign, Illinois to try to take home the 2006 Big Ten Championship which is being hosted by the University of Illinois. Five of those teams are ranked nationally, including the top-seeded and No. 11-nationally ranked Wildcats from Northwestern, who will be vying for their eighth consecutive conference crown.
The Fighting Illini (7-14, 2-8) hope to use home-court in their favor this weekend as they enter with the 10th seed of the tournament. Illinois will open their campaign as hosts on Thursday when they take on seventh-seeded Ohio State in the opening round. The Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them, especially at the No. 1 singles position, where Macall Harkins has thrived all season. The sophomore has beaten all but two Big Ten opponent she has faced for an 8-2 record and is ranked 63rd in the nation. Alejandra Meza Cuadra has also posted a winning record between No. 5 and No. 6 singles, and is 12-11 entering the weekend.
The Illini were appearing the national rankings through the middle part of the season, and boast a strong win over then-No. 50 Louisville at home.
On the strength of their doubles play, Indiana enters the Big Ten Tournament with an overall record of 17-7 and a 7-3 mark in the conference. Senior Sarah Batty, a two-time Player of the Week this season plays No. 1 singles and teams with junior Laura McGaffigan at No. 1 doubles. Batty and McGaffigan, who plays at the No. 2 singles spot, each have individual records of 14-10 overall, and as a tandem boast an 18-6 ledger. As a team, the Hoosiers have lost just six doubles points all season. At No. 3 singles, Brianna Williams holds a solid 13-9 record on the year and joins Sigrid Fischer in doubles to post an impressive 16-6 mark. Playing in the No. 4 slot, Fischer leads the team with 18 singles wins to only six losses.
With the fourth seed in the Big Ten Championship, the No. 42-ranked Crimson and Cream will face off against in-state rival Purdue on Friday in the quarterfinal round. Indiana will look to build on its Big Ten record 13 championships.
The Iowa Hawkeyes earned the second seed in this year's Big Ten Championship by posting the best conference record in school history. Their 17-4 record, including a 9-1 ledger against Big Ten opponents, is enough for the Hawkeyes to be ranked No. 30 in the country. Individually, junior Meg Racette ranks No. 37 at the top singles position and boasts a personal mark of 17-4. Racette is joined by teammate Milica Veselinovic, ranked No. 82, in leading Iowa to the second seed. Hillary Mintz has also had a successful spring playing between second and third doubles and posting an overall record of 13-8.
The Hawkeyes will prepare to match up against the winner of the Ohio State vs. Illinois match on Friday in the quarterfinal round after earning a bye through the opening round. During the regular season, Iowa defeated Ohio State 4-3 and Illinois by a score of 5-2.
Falling just one position behind Iowa in the national and the Big Ten rankings, Michigan takes the third seed into the championship with an 8-2 conference record. The Wolverines clinched the spot with a 5-2 win over Indiana on their last match of the regular season. Deb Streifler, the team's senior captain, has played everywhere from second to fifth singles and has a personal record of 16-4 overall this spring, including an 8-2 mark over Big Ten opponents. Playing most of the season at No. 2, Elizabeth Exon exhibited dominance in conference play with an 8-2 record. One of the best doubles duos in the Big Ten, Kara Delicata and Streifler have a perfect 10-0 mark at the top doubles position.
Michigan enters the weekend on a five-game win streak, with each of those matches coming against conference opponents. Last season as the seventh seed in the championship, Michigan strung together a series of upsets and made it all the way to the final match before falling to eventual champion Northwestern.
The Spartans (14-9, 4-6) have earned the sixth seed by winning three of their last four conference matches. Only a freshman, Christine Bader has consistently led Michigan State in the right direction while playing at No. 1 singles. In her first year in East Lansing, Bader holds a 13-10 record in dual matches this spring. Classmate Stephanie Kebler also has stepped up in her rookie campaign, holding a solid 16-7 ledger at the fourth singles spot. The young team has no active seniors on the roster, but with Ana Milosavljevic expected to play No. 6 singles this weekend as she has throughout the season, have three freshmen who contribute regularly.
Michigan State is scheduled to meet No. 11 Wisconsin in the final match of round one on Thursday. In their regular-season meeting, the Spartans downed the Badgers 5-2 behind a solid performance from junior Sarah Andrews. Last year, Michigan State fell victim to Michigan's surprise run to the finals and were ousted in the first round.
Once again leading Minnesota throughout the regular season has been Nischela Reddy. The senior has put up a 14-9 overall record at the top position this spring, including a 7-3 mark against Big Ten competitors which is equivalent to 39 percent of all Minnesota singles points. She has also teamed with Ida Malmberg (9-13 individually) at No. 1 doubles to earn an even 5-5 ledger against strong conference opponents. The key to Gopher success will be whether they can take the lead, as Minnesota singles players are 33-11 this season when winning the first set.
As the No. 9 seed, the Gophers (5-17, 2-8) will open the championship against Penn State on Thursday morning.
Northwestern, once again, enters the weekend with the top seed after posting a perfect 10-0 Big Ten record. It was the sixth regular season title in eight years for the Wildcats, who have won the tournament each of the past seven seasons. Currently ranked 11th by the ITA, Northwestern is led by the senior-freshman tandem of Cristelle Grier and Georgia Rose who are ranked 14th and 43rd, respectively, as individuals. Grier is a two-time Big Ten Athlete of the Year with a conference record of 9-1 in 2006 and 43-1 through her career. Rose, in her rookie campaign, has a perfect 22-0 dual match record this spring. Junior Alexis Prousis has also had a strong season, going 13-7 and ranking No. 41 in singles. Prousis and Grier team up at No. 1 doubles to form the tenth-ranked duo in the country.
The Wildcats have earned a bye into second round action on Friday, when they will take on the winner of Penn State and Minnesota's first-round tilt.
No. 7 Ohio State (13-12, 3-7) travels to Champaign this weekend to challenge host Illinois on their home court on Thursday morning. The Buckeyes are lead by Caitlin O'Keefe and Sonya Ruzimovsky, who each went 5-5 in Big Ten play while taking turns at the top singles spot. Freshman Angela DiPastina has a team-leading 20 singles wins and junior Kristin Messmer is just one off the lead with 19.
Doubles play has been the deciding factor for Ohio State this season. They have won the doubles point in each of their 13 regular-season victories, and lost it in all 12 of their defeats. The tandem of Ciara Finucane and Messmer lead the team with doubles wins spread over the first, second and third positions.
Sasha Abraham leads Penn State (8-12, 2-8) into the postseason as the most experienced junior on team with no seniors. Abraham has played No. 1 singles throughout the season and holds a respectable 6-13 record. Lauren Holzberg, playing in the fifth slot, leads the Nittany Lions with a 7-3 conference record. Holzberg also has a 9-10 doubles record, teaming mostly with Katelyn BeVard at No. 2.
No. 8 Penn State is set to do battle with No. 9 Minnesota on Thursday morning to open the championship. The Lions met with Minnesota earlier in the season, and defeated the Gophers, 5-2. Andreea Niculescu, Katelyn BeVard, Jenny Shular and Lauren Holzberg picked up singles wins and the Lions also took the doubles point with two wins. The winner of Thursday's match will advance to face Northwestern in the quarterfinal round.
The Boilermakers sit at No. 47 in the latest national rankings, and enter the Big Ten Championship as the fifth seed with a 12-9, 6-4 record. The team is led by freshman Randi Schuler (No. 98) and sophomore Brooke Beier. Schuler, who moved up to No. 1 singles from No. 2 midway through the season, has a dual-match record of 15-6 this spring, while Beier also moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 and boasts a combined record of 8-7. Another freshman, Mallory Voekler, went 9-1 at the fifth singles spot.
Purdue is in search of its first-ever Big Ten championship, and to advance will need to avenge a 5-2 regular-season loss to the Hoosiers, whom the Boilermakers will face on Friday in the quarterfinal round after earning a bye.
After an eight-week absence due to injury, junior Caitlin Burke is back and ready to lead Wisconsin into the postseason. In her first match in nearly two months, Burke helped the Badgers to a minor upset of Ohio State in the final regular season match of the season. Earlier this spring, she defeated then-No. 32 Christian Thompson of Notre Dame in straight sets. Despite playing in only 10 singles matches, Burke holds a No. 34 national ranking in singles, and combines with Nicole Beck to form a doubles tandem that is ranked No. 39. Kaylan Caiati has been the one to step up to No. 1 singles in Burke's absence, but posts a 4-5 record at positions other than the top spot this season.
Wisconsin will take on Michigan State at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday in first-round action. Last year, as the fifth seed, the Badgers advanced to the semifinals, where they fell to eventual champion Northwestern.