For the seniors of the Michigan men’s tennis team, Saturday brought two endings.
Though Myles Schalet and Gabe Tishman missed commencement while in Waco, Texas for the NCAA Tournament, they still posed in caps and gowns to celebrate the culmination of their time as students.
A few hours later, their time as college athletes, too, came to an end. A day after beating Dartmouth (15-9), 4-2, on Friday, the 20th-ranked Wolverines (18-9) fell to No. 6 Baylor (24-5), 4-1, in the second round of the tournament.
Michigan started slow against the Big Green, losing its two completed doubles matches to drop the doubles point. But sophomore Mattias Siimar won at No. 3 singles in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, to tie the score.
“Mattias getting on the board for us was huge,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg. “He’s struggled a little bit as of late, so I was happy for him. When you lose the doubles point, it’s so important to get to one-all and you feel like, OK, back in the match.”
After Dartmouth regained the lead with a win at No. 4 singles, it seemed like the Wolverines were in trouble when freshman Patrick Maloney fell behind, 3-0, in his second set at the No. 5 slot. But Maloney battled back to win in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, knotting the match back up. That provided the spark Michigan needed, as it took the matches at No. 2 and No. 6 singles to seal the win — and the all-important second-round berth.
But if Friday’s matches started with a whimper and ended with a bang, Saturday’s were the opposite.
Facing the Bears as a significant underdog in the round of 32, the Wolverines dropped their match at No. 1 doubles before roaring back to take the remaining two, both in tiebreakers. Schalet and freshman Andrew Fenty jumped up and down and whooped as they clinched the doubles point that had eluded Michigan the day before.
“It was an exciting doubles point,” Steinberg said. “It was great. It doesn’t get much better than that for college tennis. We came through and we felt great about it going into the singles, so it’s a — against a team like Baylor, if you don’t win the doubles, you’re really in trouble.”
As the Wolverines learned, sometimes, against a team like Baylor, you’re in trouble anyway.
This time, the Bears were the team that got the score to one-all after losing the doubles point and simultaneously swung momentum in their favor. First, it was junior Connor Johnston who went down in straight sets, 2-6, 3-6. The carnage only piled up as Fenty, then Tishman, then Siimar dropped their matches — all in straight sets.
Michigan won just two sets at singles — one each from Maloney and Schalet, both of whom were not afforded the chance to finish their matches with the result already decided.
“Our energy in the beginning of the singles needed to be much better,” Steinberg said. “For us, that’s who we are, our identity, and I don’t think we came out the way we should have and Baylor fed off that. They got confident quick and they have great players, so you give a little confidence to a team like that, with a lot of talent, they’re gonna take it and run with it. … When you win the doubles, you gotta capitalize on it early, get some breaks, and we didn’t do that. And Baylor took control of the match.”
Fenty, ranked No. 48 in the country at singles, qualified for the NCAA Individual Championships later this month, the lone Wolverine who will keep playing after the team’s elimination.
Steinberg always tells his tournament teams that these are the moments they’ve worked for all year — the opportunity to play great teams like the Bears on the biggest stage in college tennis. But on Saturday, Michigan couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity, and its season unceremoniously came to a close.