IU will play Iowa in its Big Ten Tournament opener in Minnesota, and is looking for a strong showing to propel the team into the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers are ranked No. 58, but senior Chris Essick said he thinks IU must break the top-40 to make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, IU finished No. 44 and was left out of the postseason competition.
IU Coach Jeremy Wurtzman said he knows winning the Big Ten Tournament would clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but wants to keep the focus on Iowa.
The team beat Iowa 4-0 on April 17, marking IU’s fourth victory in its current 6-match win streak.
“We have beaten them before, but we know they are strong, and the doubles point will be important for us because they are a tough team,” freshman Antonio Cembellin said. “We cannot be relaxed because it doesn’t mean anything for this tournament, and they know about us already.”
Wurtzman also stressed the importance of getting the doubles points against the Hawkeyes. He said its tough to play the same team twice in a season.
Iowa has only won three of its 11 games in April and enters Thursday’s match on a 2-game losing streak.
Still, Essick expects a tough match and won’t take anything for granted.
“It’s always going to be a battle no matter who we play,” Essick said. “We have to focus on the first round and Iowa and beat them.”
The atmosphere surrounding the program is markedly different since it embarked on its 6-game streak.
“We didn’t start very good but we are finishing very good,” Cembellin said. “We are finishing as one of the strongest teams and won six games in a row.
Wurtzman said he likes what he has seen from his team over these past six games, especially that the team is taking care of both its doubles and individual matches.
“The team, the whole morale is in a really good place,” Wurtzman said. “We are practicing well and our seniors have done a good job at the end of the season stepping up. We have the makings of potentially a good tournament.”
An outright tournament win would guarantee an NCAA bid for the Hoosiers. And even though No. 24 Michigan would be a possible opponent in the next round, Essick said beating Michigan would be good for the team.
“We got to take it one match at a time,” Essick said. “We don’t know how much those matches are going to push us up in rankings. We’ve got to stay disciplined and take each match as it comes.”
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