After dominating victories against Wisconsin and Wyoming during the ITA Kick-Off Weekend this past week, the No. 3 Blue Devils will head to Evanston, Ill. Sunday to take on what head coach Jamie Ashworth believes is the team’s first real challenge in No. 14 Northwestern.
“It is the first time that this team will really be tested,” he said. “I think we need to see where we are against a top-20 team.”
The Wildcats are one of only a few teams to have been ranked No. 1 in the nation in the past few years, and facing them on their home courts presents the Blue Devils with a significant obstacle on their way to the all-important National Indoor Tournament, slated to begin Feb. 8 in Charlottesville, S.C.
Along with Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton—the No. 42 doubles pair in the nation, Northwestern is also home to Kate Turvy, the No. 67 singles player. But Duke is not one to shy away from a challenge.
“Half the battle is just believing in yourself,” Ashworth said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of adversity without Rachel [Kahan] and Beatrice [Capra] on the court, but I think all of that makes us a tougher team. We just need to get out there and prove that against a good team.”
The Blue Devils lead the Wildcats 13-5 all-time, including a 5-0 victory last season. Historically, this match-up is always exciting, both for players and spectators, Ashworth says, but the girls look at every match as a unique opportunity to get better and to play their best tennis.
“We’re excited about the opportunity and we’re working the hardest this week of practice so far,” he said. “We have to play disciplined, and that’s something we always talk about as a team.”
One major focus for the team this Sunday will be to capitalize on the opportunities that arise during play, as they will be few and far between against a top-ranked team like Northwestern.
But as important as the offensive aspect is, the girls also need to focus on minimizing their unforced errors and making their opponents hit one more tennis ball.
“When we get chances to finish points or put balls away, we have to do it,” Ashworth said. “We can’t let people hang around and start to believe that they can beat us. At the same time, make them begin to question what they have to do to win points against us.”
A victory on Sunday would not only solidify their status as one of the elite teams in the nation, but also bolster overall confidence heading into the National Indoor Tournament next weekend.