Wolverines fall to Buckeyes in Big Ten Championship final
After a long rally, freshman Chiara Lommer changed the direction of the ball and hit an inside-out forehand across the court. But the ball landed just wide, ending the Michigan women’s tennis team’s chance of winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship.
The Wolverines overcame Indiana and Northwestern in the early rounds of the tournament, winning 4-0 and 4-1, respectively. However, Michigan fell in the final to Ohio State, 4-0.
Michigan had its best results when it got out to an early lead. Against both the Hoosiers and the Wildcats, the Wolverines clinched the doubles point easily.
Lommer and sophomore Brienne Minor handily took care of their Indiana opponents, dusting them 6-0. But it was the No. 3 doubles pair of junior Mira Ruder-Hook and freshman Valeria Patiuk who clinched the point for the Wolverines. After losing the first two games, the duo rallied to win five straight games, eventually taking the match, 6-3.
Ruder-Hook and Patiuk were the first off the court against Northwestern, but it was sophomore Kate Fahey and junior Alex Najarian’s turn to win the doubles point against the Wildcats. Fahey and Najarian charged the net, forcing the Wildcats to sail the ball long.
When it came to singles play, Michigan didn’t slow down. Najarian dropped the Wolverines’ lone singles match, but she still managed to force it to three sets. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Minor and Fahey battled to win their three-set matches to send Michigan to the finals.
Earlier in the year, the Wolverines faced the Buckeyes as part of their non-conference slate. Ohio State came out in top form, winning the matchup 5-1, and Sunday’s final was no different.
After taking the No. 3 and No. 2 doubles matches, 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, Michigan was in an early hole.
“We knew the doubles point was going to be important and we unfortunately came out on the wrong side of it,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “There was a big deuce point at No. 2 that we didn't win that could have gotten that match back on track. With the way doubles works now, you have to get a good start and we came out of the gates a little slow.”
The Buckeyes continued their domination into singles play by winning all six first sets.
Perhaps the most anticipated match of the day was the No. 1 singles contest between Fahey and top-ranked Francesca Di Lorenzo. The pair kept the match close, exchanging breaks back and forth. But it was eventually Di Lorenzo who claimed the first set, 7-5.
The match was abandoned, however, after Lommer’s loss gave Ohio State their fourth point.
The second point came against Patiuk, who dropped the first set, 6-0, and fell into a 5-1 hole in the second, but still managed to fight off two match points. But a driving forehand down the line from the Buckeyes’ Ferny Angeles Paz sealed the match.
The next Wolverine off the court was Najarian. She approached the net and attempted to hit her opponents’ return cross court, but sent it into the bottom of the net to put Ohio State within one point of the championship.
At the conclusion of the contest, the three remaining matches were abandoned. Ruder-Hook had just won the second set, Minor managed to force a third set, and Fahey was in a 3-0 hole in the second set. Things may have turned around for Michigan, but it was all too little too late.
“We had our work cut out for us in singles and we weren't able to get it done,” Bernstein said. “(Fahey) hung in there at No. 1 and played a great match. (Minor) and (Ruder-Hook) were able to stay on court with wins in their second sets. We had a lot of ground to make up without the doubles point and it is almost impossible when you lose all six first sets.
“We played well in some spots and not so great at some others, but it is a team sport and you need to win at multiple spots.”
While the Wolverines didn’t manage to win the Tournament, they will likely still have a chance to continue their season in the NCAA Tournament. They will learn their fate on May 2 and can hopefully learn from the loss to the Buckeyes.
“As much as this hurts, we still have a lot of tennis left this season,” Bernstein said. “We have a really good chance of hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament and we are looking forward to that. We will get back to practice this week and get ready for the rest of the postseason.”