On May 25, two girls dressed in matching white tops and navy skirts took their positions to play doubles in a tennis match in Orlando, Fla.
But these were no ordinary girls, no ordinary outfits and, certainly, no ordinary match.
It was the final evening of the NCAA Division I Men’s & Women’s Tennis Tournament. The two girls that stepped onto that court each had already made history in their own ways and were hungry for one final mark. The white shirts they donned were emblazoned with a block ‘M’, a symbol that connected them to the University of Michigan. And as the first serve flew over the net, Brienne Minor and Kate Fahey were officially competing for a national championship.
One last time.
Brienne Minor, from Mundelein, Ill., started her career at Michigan as a sought-after high school recruit. She got serious looks and gave strong considerations to other esteemed programs such as UCLA and Northwestern. But on Nov. 13, 2014, Minor verbally committed to play for the Wolverines, and thus began her illustrious collegiate tennis career.
As a freshman, she was All-Big Ten and a 2016 ITA All-American in singles and in doubles, which made her only the second player in school history to earn both honors.
In her sophomore season, Minor made history.
She was crowned the 2017 NCAA Singles Champion.
Not only was she the first in program history to achieve such a feat, she became the first in Big Ten women’s tennis history to do so. She was the first Black female to ever win the title. The last Black athlete to win an NCAA Singles title was Arthur Ashe in 1965.
Bouncing back off two knee procedures that derailed her junior year, Minor’s senior year was impressive. She won the ITA Midwest Regionals title, was named All-American in doubles and All-Big Ten, was 2019 NCAA National runner-up in doubles, which shattered the school record for tournament advances, and closed out her collegiate career as Michigan’s all-time leader in All-America citations with four.
After she won the singles title in her sophomore year and sat out junior year recovering from her knee surgeries, Minor felt the pressure to perform to her highest caliber her senior year. Her team and coaches, however, were always reassuring and confident in her.
“I think for (Minor), she wins the whole thing two years ago and it’s a lot of added pressure on her to duplicate that,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein on the 2019 Nationals competition. “I mean, we told her, ‘You have this forever. You don’t have to live up to this every year, because who can?’
“That’s tough, in a sense, dealing with winning (the 2017 NCAA Singles title) and the pressure that comes with that. And she did incredible. You see how she helped us this year, on the court and off, especially.”
In her four years, Minor gave Michigan much more than records – she has set an example of a strong-willed teammate, competitor and friend.
Kate Fahey, from Fair Haven, N.J., was always one to watch. Notorious for her competitive nature and fiery on-court persona, Fahey’s career followed suit.
Her freshman year, Fahey was All-Big Ten, went 9-0 in conference play, and started her reputation of win streaks with 15 straight singles victories during the 2016 season.
Hungry for more, she started off her sophomore year with a bang. Fahey won both the ITA Midwest Regional Singles and Doubles Championships, which earned her an automatic berth to the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, where she and then junior Alex Najarian took home the crown in doubles. She also extended her conference win streak in singles to 18-0 and earned the first All-American honor of her career.
Fahey’s junior season brought her two Big Ten Athlete of the Week honors, a second straight NCAA Singles berth, an Academic All Big-Ten honor, a unanimous All-Big Ten selection and a 2018 Big Ten Athlete of the Year honor, among other individual achievements.
Even amid those accolades, Fahey’s senior season took her to another level. She was a two-time Big Ten Tennis Athlete of the Week, won a record 21-straight singles matches at No. 1, was an ITA All-American in both singles and doubles and earned a unanimous All-Big Ten selection. And, after closing out her collegiate career as a doubles national runner-up with Minor, Fahey was named 2019 Big Ten Athlete of the Year, Michigan’s Female Athlete of the Year, and is now the winningest player in program history.
“Kate’s unbelievable work ethic is inspiring,” said assistant coach Teryn Ashley-Fitch. “I mean, it’s inspiring to see. I’ve never met anyone who loves tennis more than Kate.
“I think if you talked to any coach in the country, or any coach at Michigan, they would want to have someone like Kate compete the way that she does and train the way that she does. We’ve never seen anyone like her before, and I don’t know that we’ll see anyone like her again.”
While their respective achievements and accomplishments aided Fahey and Minor in earning esteemed reputations and engraving their names into program and national history, it was actually the game they played together that made these two girls such an anomaly.
Minor and Fahey were the duo that the Michigan women’s tennis team had, but never knew it needed. The unlikely pairing of two very different, talented players allowed them to connect, win, and play their final game for Michigan, as a pair, for a national championship title.
Throughout the four years together, Minor and Fahey were primarily paired up with other teammates and performed well with whomever they were matched up. Michigan was consistently ranked nationally in at least one doubles pair, especially Fahey/Najarian in 2017, who topped the chart at No. 1. However, following sporadic losses, the coaching staff would shake things up to see who would click, knowing who had performed well level all season.
A few times during the first three years, Minor and Fahey were paired up and competed at a high level, but the “normalcy” of other pairings was always returned soon after.
Their senior year, as two of the strongest players on the roster, they were placed together on the court for most of the season, once the Michigan coaching staff was confident in the pairs at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots.
“We didn’t have (Minor and Fahey) necessarily as partners — you try to have three teams that you feel like you can get that doubles point,” said Bernstein. “This year, we put them together in the fall and then more so going into Big Tens and the end of the year.
They know each other really well and I think they trust each other. I think that’s why you saw such good results.”
Added Ashley-Fitch: “I mean, they’re so different. In terms of their doubles combination, we knew that they were going to be a rock solid team just because of what they bring to the table. Kate is super solid, Bri is really aggressive. And we knew they would complement each other, it was just about getting them and getting our team to the spot that we can play them together.”
In the final minutes of the NCAA Doubles Finals match, as the points were being awarded on both sides of the court, the duo looked visibly dejected. Minor, not letting herself or her partner lose motivation or hope, pulled Fahey to the side for a quick pep talk.
“(Minor) stays positive,” said Fahey. “She pulled me over at (a crucial match point) and was like, ‘We got this, we can get through this, believe in yourself.’”
Though they didn’t come out victorious, they played with confidence, poise, and dignity until the very end.,
And after capping off their historic years as Wolverines, Minor and Fahey shared some emotional words:
“Those were definitely some of the best four years of my life,” said Fahey. “My team had such a crucial impact on my career, my coaches have been incredible, and the staff.”
Added Minor: “I’m so happy I came to this school and I wish I could do it all over again, honestly.”
And, as a class and as a duo that grossly outperformed expectations, their legacy has left a mark.
“It’s amazing. Those two … they’re super special,” said Ashley-Fitch. “They came in, and regardless of our expectations, they put Michigan tennis first. I never once questioned whether or not they wanted to win for Michigan and work for Michigan and make our program better.
There’s no question they left this program better than when they came in.”
As the final point of a rollercoaster match and the subsequent national championship title was given to their opponents, off walked those two girls. The girls that, together, boasted an NCAA Singles title, two Michigan Female Athlete of the Year awards, two ITA Regional Singles and Doubles titles, two conference championship titles, countless All-American and Big Ten honors and numerous broken school records – among many, many other accolades. The girls that, while setting and accomplishing goals for themselves, ended together.
Those two girls on that court were more than just tennis players. They were more than college athletes.
Brienne Minor and Kate Fahey will forever be a part of Michigan history.