By Matthew Kipnis, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 23, 2014
When senior Vlad Stefan won the last match of the meet, clinching a 7-0 blowout of Youngstown State, his teammates were excited but not ecstatic. They cheered on Stefan and were worked up for his victory, but they knew they didn’t perform the way they wanted to this weekend.
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Though the Michigan men’s tennis team defeated Youngstown State in commanding fashion in their first ever encounter Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines couldn’t do the same to their Big Ten rivals this past weekend.
Michigan (8-6 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) lost its 15th straight match to No. 2 Ohio State (19-2, 3-0) and saw its seven-game win streak against No. 27 Penn State (14-2, 2-1) snapped.
After a match with the Nittany Lions that lasted more than four hours, Michigan bounced back with a dominating win over the Penguins that was decided in less than two hours.
“The biggest thing is that the last thing we did today was win a college tennis match,” said Michigan head coach Bruce Berque. “That is a positive going into our next match which is going to be a tough one on the road against Louisville.”
The Wolverines won their 11th doubles point this season with two 8-3 victories against Youngstown State. Michigan’s singles played well in the second half of the home doubleheader, as freshman Kevin Wong, junior Michael Zhu and senior Alex Buzzi won their matches quickly, dispatching each of their opponents in straight sets to clinch the match.
“This win will definitely help us forget about Penn State so that is good to have,” Zhu said. “It is back to the drawing board for us, though.”
Gardiner got the second start of his career Sunday afternoon because Berque gave his captains a deserved break. Junior Alex Petrone’s and senior Barret Franks’ matches both went deep into the third set this weekend and senior Shaun Bernstein was forced to retire due to injury.
“It was nice to have some guys that work hard on the court in practice every day who don’t always get a chance to play to have that opportunity and those who lost today to get back on the court and win and get in the right mindset,” Berque said.
Sunday morning, Michigan lost its second consecutive match in Big Ten play, 5-2. Penn State won the doubles points, upsetting the then-undefeated doubles combo of Wong and Bernstein.
The Nittany Lions won the next singles match defeating Franks to take a 2-0 lead. Zhu started the Wolverines’ comeback and redshirt junior Justin Rossi shortly followed, tying the match at 2-2. With the win, Rossi picked up his seventh victory in eight matches.
Penn State eventually pulled away with wins over Buzzi, Petrone and Bernstein.
Friday night, the Wolverines were on the wrong side of history as they lost to the No. 2 Buckeyes 6-1. The win was Ohio State’s 184th-consecutive home win, a feat that dates back to 2003. Ohio State tied the Stanford women’s tennis program for the longest consecutive home win record that spanned 12 years.
“I don’t mind playing in front of away crowds but that place gets so loud,” Rizzo said. “It is one of the loudest places I have every played in and the fans were going wild. It is difficult if you are not playing well or frustrated.”
The Buckeyes won a tightly contested doubles point, just the fourth time the Wolverines had lost the doubles point before the Penn State match.
Ohio State carried its momentum from the doubles point and came out strong in their singles matches winning three consecutive matches over Stefen, Buzzi and Petrone to clinch the match. The lone win for the Wolverines came from Bernstein shortly after the match was clinched.
“We are disappointed with the result,” Berque said. “We (beat Youngstown State) which was nice but we didn’t plan on losing both matches. We knew we had two tough matches on our hands and played well in some spots but against really good teams, your margin is really small.”
Michigan’s play this weekend was practically identical to its play last weekend, with a blowout loss and dominant win. The Wolverines will look for more consistent play now that Big Ten play has begun.