Tennis and cold weather don't mix very well.
But Northwestern tennis coach Claire Pollard has gotten more and more elite recruits each year to warm up to the idea that there is no reason frigid destinations like the Windy City can't produce an NCAA national champion.
"I think we can do it, I think we'll get it done," said Pollard, who has been at Northwestern since 1999. "It's just that the recruiting battle is so difficult when you're competing against warm-weather schools. Tennis is an outdoor sport.
"But the nice thing for us is that we have a chance now. The consistency that we've had as a program gets you on the map."
The Wildcats are dominating regionally. Last weekend, they won their 12th Big Ten regular-season team title in the last 14 years. And they are the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten tournament at Ohio State this weekend.
Now, the trick is to close that cold and dreary "temperature gap" at the national level once and for all.
In the 30 years since 1982 that the NCAA has been awarding team national championships in women's tennis, only eight teams have won the title. Three of them are from California, such as Stanford, which boasts a record 16 titles, and the rest are from southern states such as Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. And North Carolina, the most northern-reaching state with a title, can claim just one, Duke's in 2009.
Clearly the North and the East have some catching up to do. Teams like Northwestern will get its chance when the NCAA Tournament gets underway on May 11.
"The biggest turn-off recruits have for schools in this area of the country is the weather," said Northwestern doubles standout Nida Hamilton, a sophomore who won multiple high school state championships at Hinsdale Central.
Hamilton is the Wildcats' only player from Illinois.
"The Chicago area has really good high school tennis -- it's one of the strongest regions in the Midwest," Hamilton said. "But a lot of players like to play outdoors so they choose to go elsewhere.
"It's changing, though. I wanted to come to Northwestern because the school was everything I was looking for, plus the tennis is really, really good. We're also getting another recruit from the Chicago area next year, and Coach (Pollard) keeps getting a lot of other really good recruits, too. The way things are going, I think we're getting really close to a national championship."
The ever-improving Big Ten has prepared Northwestern like never before this season. The Wildcats are ranked No. 11 nationally followed by Michigan at No. 15, Nebraska at No. 17 and Illinois at No. 20.
"The Big Ten is the best it's ever been, which is really nice to see," Pollard said. "You hope we can stay on top of the conference forever, but it's going to be tough. Some teams gave us everything we could handle this year.
"I think we really had eight NCAA-Tournament-caliber teams in the Big Ten this season, all with capability of having success at that level. We are gaining momentum as a conference and that's going to help all of us nationally."