Freshman Sulahian clinches match again, 'M' gains split down south

Daily Sports Writer
Published March 8, 2009

With its match against No. 26 Texas Chrstian knotted at three, the hopes of the Michigan women's tennis team hinged on the shoulders of its youngest player, freshman Michelle Sulahian.

But she was in a familiar situation.

Six weeks ago, Sulahian was in the same position against South Carolina and delivered the final singles win for the Wolverines in straight sets, 7-6, 6-4.

And yesterday, the poised freshman came through again to clinch the last point for Michigan (6-4) in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I did it once and I can do it again,’ ” Sulahian said. “Having my teammates cheer me on from the nearby courts definitely helped.”

Sulahian said her ability to come to the net and grind out points might have been the deciding factors in her match-clinching victory.

Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein praised Sulahian for her “feistiness” and ability to play tough as the pressure mounted towards the end of the match.

The Valley Glen, Calif. native had been in and out of the lineup in recent weeks, sharing time with senior Lindsey Howard at No. 6 singles.

But with Sulahian’s success this past weekend, she may have secured a permanent spot in the singles lineup.

After falling behind 3-2 in the match, the 19th-ranked Wolverines (6-4) needed both of the last two singles matches for the win, and both Sulahian and junior Tania Mahtani came through in the clutch.

“To beat a good TCU team in 85-degree heat is a pretty good accomplishment for our team,” Bernstein said.

The win against the Horned Frogs helped the Wolverines salvage a split in Texas this weekend. Two days earlier, the Wolverines fell 5-2 to No. 5 Baylor.

“They’re a good team," Bernstein said. “To be honest, they are just a better team than us right now in the season.”

After the Bears swept the doubles point, Sulahian made her first start in three matches and won in three sets to give Michigan its first team point.

Senior Chisako Sugiyama followed Sulahian’s win with a victory of her own at the No. 1 position, beating Baylor’s 38th-ranked player in three sets. Sugiyama’s win moved her into second place on the Wolverines’ all-time career singles wins list with 96.

But those two singles victories for Sugiyama and Sulahian would be the Wolverines' only wins. The Bears won the final four to clinch the match.

The key to consistent winning for Michigan may be improving the quality of the singles play. Bernstein said Michigan has yet to put together a match this season where all six singles players are playing at their best.

“If we want to beat some of the country’s best, that is what we are going to have to do,” Bernstein said.