Claire Pollard is in her 22nd season as the head coach at Northwestern.
In her first 21 seasons at the helm of the program, Pollard has brought the ‘Cats from regular contender in the Big Ten to national powerhouse. She has compiled a record of 452-140 during her time at NU, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament each season.
Pollard’s streak of 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with the ‘Cats is the fifth longest streak by an active head coach at the same program.
The Wildcats claimed 11 consecutive Big Ten championships from 1999-2009 and added a 12th regular season crown in 2012. In addition to its regular season success, Northwestern strung together 13 straight Big Ten Tournament titles between 1999-2011. Under Pollard the ‘Cats were 45-0 all-time in postseason play against conference foes (Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Championships) before falling to Purdue in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament in 2012.
Northwestern made it 16 consecutive seasons with a Big Ten title when they won the conference tournament in 2014 as the host school, defeating Indiana and Ohio State before avenging a regular-season loss to Michigan in the championship.
Pollard was the 2008 Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year and is a five-time Wilson/ITA Midwest Region Coach of the Year, most recently in 2012. Pollard is also a five-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, winning the award consecutively in 2008 and 2009. She coached NU to several program-firsts including a No. 1 national ranking in three straight years, back-to-back No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Championships and consecutive ITA National Indoor Team championships in 2009 and 2010.
Pollard’s success rate in conference play is even more astounding, with her all-time conference regular season record standing at 197-21. Pollard guided NU to 81 straight wins against conference opponents from April 2004-April 2010.
Under Pollard, NU has flourished with 59 individual NCAA qualifiers, 10 Midwest Regional singles champions — most recently Kate Turvy in 2012 — 55 All-Big Ten honorees and 82 Academic All-Big Ten recipients. The Wildcats had at least one All-American nine straight years from 2003-11.
Northwestern posted its 11th-straight 20-win season in 2014, claiming its 15th Big Ten Tournament title over a 16-season span. The Wildcats beat 13 ranked opponents, including a pair of wins over top-10 teams in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. Pollard’s 2014 team was highlighted by Belinda Niu, who picked up her 100th career win in the season’s final match.
The 2013 squad posted 15 victories over ranked opponents and overcame a pair of regular-season Big Ten defeats en route to claiming the Big Ten tournament title for the 14th time in 15 years. Northwestern defeated UIC and Baylor in the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament to advanced to the NCAA round of 16 for the 10th straight season.
The Wildcats overcame a loaded schedule in 2012 in order to win their 12th Big Ten regular season title under Pollard. NU regularly faced the top programs in the country in both the nonconference and conference portions of its schedule. Pollard’s group earned several marquee victories throughout the year including triumphs against No. 8 North Carolina, No. 9 Virginia, No. 15 Michigan and No. 18 Notre Dame, all of which came on the road. Northwestern played 18 matches against teams in the 2012 NCAA Championship field, winning nine of those contests.
Pollard’s 2011 squad was a reflection of her own never-quit attitude, winning the Big Ten Tournament with an incredible comeback in the championship match. The Wildcats trailed top-seeded Michigan 3-0 on the Wolverines’ home courts before taking the last four singles matches off the courts to extend their string of tournament titles, avenging an earlier loss to Michigan in the process. It was the second time that season NU came back from down 3-0 to win, also turning the trick against rival Notre Dame in the regular season.
By season’s end, Pollard had guided Mosolova to her fourth-career singles All-American honor — making her the second Wildcat under Pollard to accomplish that feat — while also coaching the underclassmen duo of Linda Abu Mushrefova and Nida Hamilton to the round of eight in the NCAA Doubles Championship and All-American status for the first time in their respective careers.
After steadily growing under Pollard for nearly a decade, Northwestern women’s tennis reached new heights in 2009 when they maintained the No. 1 spot in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis polls from the preseason through the start of the NCAA Championships and eventually finished ranked No. 2 for the second consecutive season. NU defended its top ranking early in the year with its historic win at the ITA National Indoor Team Championship in February as it became the first northern school — and just the sixth school overall — to win the crown in the 22-year history of the event. Later in the year, Pollard and the ‘Cats capped off a fifth straight unbeaten Big Ten dual season and eventually reached the NCAA quarterfinals for the third time in four years.
NU’s success in the 2009 dual season continued the momentum it developed in 2008 when the ‘Cats completed a landmark season by setting program records for wins (29), winning percentage (.935) and shutouts (15).
In 2010, NU returned to the National Indoor tournament in Madison as the defending champion and again played four unbelievable days of team tennis to capture its second straight championship. The victory was a highlight in another stellar season in which Pollard guided the ‘Cats to a 12th consecutive Big Ten Tournament title — defeating top-seeded Michigan in the final for the sixth year in a row — and reaching the NCAA round of 16 for the seventh straight season. The Wildcats finished ranked seventh in the national polls.
Pollard first brought Northwestern to the NCAA round of eight in 2006, the same year in which the Wildcats won their first individual national championship under Pollard’s guidance when Cristelle Grier and Alexis Prousis captured the NCAA doubles crown. With that win, Pollard became the second coach in NCAA history to capture a doubles title as both a player and a coach.
Even prior to its consecutive years with a No. 2 final team ranking, Northwestern was consistently in the mix as one of the nation’s elite programs under Pollard. In her time at NU, the Wildcats have recorded final finishes of fifth (2005), eighth (2006 and 2007), ninth (2001), 10th (2004), 12th (2011, 2012 and 2013), 14th (2002) 15th (2001) and 18th (2003). Northwestern has reached at least the round of 16 in the NCAA Championships in 12 of the last 16 years, increasing the program’s number of total NCAA appearances along the way to 27.
On the individual side, Pollard has coached three of only four players in Big Ten history to earn the league’s Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same season. In 2003, Cristelle Grier became the first NU player and just the second in conference history to earn both accolades, preceding Audra Cohen (2005) and Maria Mosolova (2008).
In 2019, Clarissa Hand became the 10th Wildcat to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
In 2009, Mosolova joined Grier as NU’s only winners of multiple Big Ten Player of the Year awards. Grier, a four-time All-Big Ten selection, captured the honor three times (2003, 2005-06). The superb depth of Pollard’s lineups has become apparent in recent years with four All-Big Ten selections in both 2008 and 2009, the second and third times in school history — and the first since 1984 — that a quartet of Wildcats earned the recognition.
Pollard’s first head coaching position was at her alma mater, Mississippi State University, where she was the coach during the 1990-91 season.
After a short stint with the Chris Lane Tennis Club in England, she came back to the States to take on the head coaching position at Lamar, where she led both the men’s and women’s teams. During that time, the women’s team posted a 64-49 overall record. Meanwhile, the men’s team finished 1997 with a 13-8 mark, its best since 1986.
A decorated collegiate player, Pollard won the 1989 NCAA Doubles Championship as well as back-to-back Southeastern Conference Indoor and Outdoor Doubles Championships with current NU associate head coach, Jackie Holden. An All-American and Academic All-American, she was named Mississippi State’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1989.
Pollard is the Bulldogs’ leader for doubles victories in one season with 39 in 1988-89 and in a career with 111 (1986-1989). She also ranks fifth in career singles wins with 67 and is tied for 10th in season singles victories (23, 1987-88).
In 1989, Pollard also participated in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open Championships. Pollard graduated magna cum laude from Mississippi State with a bachelor of science in fitness management and received her master’s from Mississippi State in sports administration.
A native of Surrey, England, Pollard served for four years on the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tennis Committee. Pollard also served as chairman of the NCAA Committee for two years.
Pollard resides in Evanston.