Ronni Bernstein poured herself a cup of coffee as she pondered some decisions she probably didn’t want to make just yet.
Stunned, Bernstein was faced with one question after stumbling out of the gate: How do you move forward after a nightmare like Saturday?
“We could see some (doubles) lineup changes,” Bernstein said after Saturday’s matches. “It’s something I’ll think about over a cup of coffee.”
No team wants to start its season on the wrong side of a sweep — let alone one at the hands of its rival. But Saturday, the No. 10 Michigan women’s tennis team did just that, prompting some brainstorming from the coach.
The first leg of the Michigan Invitational — the team’s annual three-day exhibition tournament over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend — did not treat the Wolverines well. Unranked Ohio State marched into Ann Arbor’s Varsity Tennis Center and, just two hours later, left with a triumphant sweep in the four-match exhibition doubles series.
Repeated cheers of “Go Bucks” rained down from the stands when the Buckeyes began the afternoon with a pair of dominant wins. After dropping the first two matches, 6-1 and 6-2, Michigan kept the scoreboard close in the last two. Despite the damage already being done, the hope of a quick turnaround injected life into the four remaining Wolverines’ teammates, who looked on from the neighboring courts.
Just when it looked like the ball was starting to bounce Michigan’s way, the Buckeyes slammed the door shut. The Wolverines’ rally aspirations took a blow when freshman Lanie Van Linge and sophomore Bella Lorenzini dropped their match, 7-5. Moments later, Ohio State clinched the sweep by toppling junior Giulia Pairone and freshman Anca Craciun, 7-6.
Bernstein’s cup of coffee certainly paid dividends. Saturday’s losing pairs were separated on Sunday and Monday, and the new partnerships propelled the Wolverines to a combined five doubles wins over No. 14 Georgia Tech and Tennessee.
Van Linge and junior Chiara Lommer stood out most among the new tandems, clicking instantly despite having little experience with each other.
“In college doubles, you need to be ready to play with any one of your teammates,” said senior Kate Fahey on Saturday.
The Van Linge-Lommer duo showed flashes of potential in a 7-5 win over Tennessee’s Johanna Silva and Rebeka Mertena on Sunday. Lommer’s left-handed serve and Van Linge’s quick reflexes at the net made the team’s serve tough to break, but Michigan’s hiccups on the serve receive kept the match close.
Monday presented the new partnership’s tallest task — a showdown with the 14th-ranked Yellow Jackets’ pairing of Nadia Gizdova and Dalila Said. With pressure mounting in the weekend’s final stages, Van Linge and Lommer played their best tennis of the young season. Behind Van Linge’s natural net instincts and Lommer’s heavy topspin forehand, the tandem put an exclamation point on the Wolverines’ night-and-day improvement with a convincing 6-2 victory.
“I was happy with how the change went on Sunday and Monday,” Bernstein said. “Because we were more energetic, we were able to compete. (Our players) are so used to playing for themselves before they get here, so they need to figure out that energy piece and playing for a team. They’re hearing it a lot, and it was a completely different Sunday and Monday from what we saw Saturday.”
A weekend which began with a deafening slew of “Go Bucks” in Michigan’s home building during a painful sweep took a 180-degree turn for the better. Monday’s success punctuated the team’s doubles improvement in encouraging fashion as “Go Blue” cheers echoed off the complex’s maize and blue championship banners.
In the end, a mere cup of coffee saved the Wolverines’ weekend from catastrophe.