Women’s tennis ends season with Sweet 16 exit

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Michigan's Denise Muresan plays against University of Illinois-Chicago. Buy this photo

Daily Sports Writer
Published May 22, 2010

Every story has an ending, but the Michigan women’s tennis team's record season, unfortunately, didn't have a happy one.

After dominating at home during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the fourth-ranked Wolverines traveled to Georgia for the Sweet 16.

But that would be as far as the team would get, after facing No. 14 Tennessee.

Michigan (24-5) fell 4-0 on Thursday to the Lady Volunteers, effectively ending the Wolverines' winningest season in program history.

“The girls were excited before the match,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “We felt pretty good and we had good practices beforehand, and then it just didn’t work out.”

However, the third-year coach didn’t want to take anything away from Tennessee (19-8) and its performance.

“Clearly we did not play our best, but some of it was Tennessee, too,” Bernstein said. “They played really well.”

Michigan struggled in doubles right out of the gate — an area that has generally been a strength all season. Tennessee's No. 1 doubles team of Caitlin Whoriskey and Natalie Pluskota defeated the Wolverines' top tandem of 19th-ranked juniors Rika Tatsuno and Whitney Taney.

The doubles point was then clinched in dramatic fashion in the number-two spot thanks to a 9-8 Tennessee win in the eight-game pro set. The Volunteers won the tiebreaker 12-10, just as the third doubles match was beginning a third set tiebreaker of its own.

Bernstein and her team were unhappy with the results, but considering the Wolverines only had one senior, they know that such a season can be a stepping stone to greater success.

“This doesn’t take away from our year,” Bernstein said. “It was our first time and hopefully the girls will learn and feel what it was like to be here and have that feeling afterwards, (of) not doing our best. And hopefully we’ll get back here next year and be able to really fight and advance past the round of 16.”

Most of the Michigan squad traveled back to Ann Arbor after the loss, but a select few received the opportunity to stay in Georgia.

No. 19 junior Denise Muresan and the doubles duo of Taney and Tatsuno will be staying for this week's upcoming NCAA Individual Championships.

“They’re excited and I’m excited for them,” Bernstein said. “It’s a great opportunity and a reward for a great year that they’ve had individually for us.”

It's easy to criticize a team that fell out of the tournament earlier than expected. But to a coach who preached unity and teamwork all year, Bernstein simply saw it as a bright flame dying out a little too soon.

“The goal was to peak at the end of the year, and I think the last couple of weeks we’ve been a little bit off, to be honest,” Bernstein said. “There’s not much in particular (to work on). We just need to make sure that at the end of the year we’re playing our best tennis.”

Bernstein is excited to get into the off-season training period and start preparing for the fall. With a top-10 recruiting class coming in, the first part of the year will be that much more important.

“It’s a clean slate," Bernstein said. "Nobody has a spot won in the lineup, by any means. The fall is where they can show their stuff, so it’s going to be important not only for our freshmen to come ready to go, but for the veterans to know that it’s not time to take a couple of months off. We’re going to have nine very good players next year, and everybody has a chance to make the lineup.”