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With every other match clinched, Michigan freshman Merri Kelly found herself in a third-set tiebreaker, and all eyes turned to her. Kelly and Wisconsin sophomore Charmaine Seah traded points until Kelly’s groundstrokes eventually proved too much to handle, taking a 10-8 victory in the tiebreaker.  

The Michigan women’s tennis team’s return to the Varsity Tennis Center was flooded with late game heroics, yet the highlight of the weekend was the Wolverines’ new faces and their ability to respond to adversity. 

“I think our freshman class is as good as any in the country,” Wolverines’ coach Ronni Bernstein said. “I see them stepping up and having a huge impact for us this year.”

Freshman Jaedan Brown proved Bernstein’s point by opening her second day of singles with a dominant first-set win over Northwestern sophomore Briana Crowley, 6-0. Crowley came storming back, taking the next set, 6-4, and jumped out a 2-0 lead in the third. Brown responded by winning six of the next eight games, taking a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 victory. 

“(Brown’s) maybe one of our best,” Bernstein said. “It’s still early obviously, but with her skills, I think she could be a great player for us.”

Freshman Gala Mesochoritou joined the mix after falling just short in a crushing 6-7 (4) first-set defeat against Wildcats’ sophomore Christina Hand. Showing composure beyond her years, Mesochoritou extended the match with a gritty 7-5 second-set victory before cruising 6-2 in the third, including an emphatic overhead to finish the match. 

Freshman Kari Miller played with a lead for most of the weekend, but she handled the pressure confidently when the time came. Ohio State junior Kolie Allen pushed Miller to the brink on the final day of the tournament, where Miller found herself down the majority of the first set before clawing her way back to tie things at six apiece. 

“(Miller) is going to be really good and already is,” Bernstein said. “She doesn’t take a ball off ever.” 

Miller snatched the tiebreaker 7-5 and never looked back en route to a 6-1 victory in the second.

Kelly, Brown, Mesochoritou and Miller combined for an 11-1 record over the weekend in their singles debut, putting the rest of the Big Ten on notice. 

The Wolverines’ freshman class came in with lofty expectations as highly touted recruits, but their early success is a product of more than just talent.

The influx of freshman has bolstered a lineup with experienced, tested players ready to lead their new teammates. Graduate student Chiara Lommer’s role on the team has expanded to far more than winning matches. 

“We talk to our team about this: (Lommer) doesn’t give up, doesn’t quit on one point,” Bernstein said. “She’s an incredible competitor and it’s awesome for the younger kids to see that because she wins by fighting.”

Lommer isn’t just a leader by example. Her intensity is commanding and infectious. 

“(Lommer) is probably the best person to play doubles with because she’s always so positive with you,” Bernstein said. “I think it helps (Brown) at moments when the pressure is on.” 

In matches defined by momentum swings, the young Wolverines often had their backs against the wall, but they took it as an opportunity to showcase their resolve and relentless effort early on in Michigan’s season. 

“Their tennis speaks for itself,” Bernstein said. “They fit in and they work hard. 

“Our girls respect them a lot on the court already.”

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