Michigan advances to Big Ten semifinals, falls to Ohio State
Though the Michigan men’s tennis team won its 20th match for the first time since 2008, it’s clear it still has a long way to go before it’s competitive with Ohio State — winners of 11 consecutive Big Ten titles.
The Wolverines were the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament after finishing 8-3 in conference play.
On Friday, Michigan dominated Iowa for the second time in a week, winning 4-1. The Wolverines also defeated Iowa, 4-0, on April 22.
Michigan took an early lead over the Hawkeyes by earning the doubles point for the 16th time this season. The Wolverines are 16-0 when they win the doubles point.
Sophomore Carter Lin picked up his team-leading 22nd win of the season over Iowa junior Robin Haden, 6-2, 6-0.
Sophomore Runhao Hua and redshirt sophomore Davis Crocker also added singles wins, 6-0, 6-2 and 6-1, 6-4, respectively.
Redshirt sophomore Alex Knight’s 6-2, 6-2 loss at No. 1 singles pushed Michigan’s record at the top spot to 8-13, the only position at which it has won fewer than half of its matches.
“I think after the season we’ll look back,” said Michigan coach Adam Steinberg, “And be really proud that we got over 20 wins.”
There wasn’t much time to celebrate the team’s 20th victory, though, as the Wolverines were right back on the courts in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals against Ohio State, the No. 4 team in the country.
Ohio State swept Michigan for the second time this year. The Buckeyes were undefeated in Big Ten play for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.
“They play a little smarter than we do,” Steinberg said. “I think their guys do extra. They have a great work ethic. We’re young, we’re learning and we’re getting there.”
The talent gap was evident, as the Wolverines combined to win just three sets in their two matches against the Buckeyes. All three of those sets came on Saturday, though, as Michigan put its team growth on display.
“We definitely took a step forward,” Steinberg said. “Not the step we wanted, obviously. We wanted to win a Big Ten title here. But it was a big improvement.”
Junior Jathan Malik, junior Kevin Wong and Hua each won a set on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough, as Ohio State earned straight set victories at the No. 1, 5 and 6 positions to clinch the match before the Wolverines had a chance to put up a point.
Michigan did not win the Big Ten Tournament title it sought, but it will still be a part of the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 13.
“For most of (my players), playing in the NCAA Tournament will be their first time,” Steinberg said. “They can’t wait, and that’s fun to watch.”
For now, Michigan’s goal is to make the Sweet Sixteen. Ohio State’s is to win a national championship. The gap — though smaller than last season — remains significant.
But Michigan hopes its drastic 2016 turnaround can expedite the process of joining the Big Ten’s elite.