On its face, momentum seemed to swing over to No. 2 Ohio State. Its No. 5 singles knotted up Michigan sophomore Jacob Bickersteth at four games apiece and set the stage for a possible transcendent recovery for the Buckeyes. However, when Bickersteth peered across the court to see senior Patrick Maloney capture his second set 6-3 over No. 11 ranked J.J. Tracy, Bickersteth knew he could spell a quick end to the Buckeyes’ road to redemption.
He knew it so well that he conquered the next game in straight points, bolstering a one-game lead as all eyes fell on him to clinch the Wolverines’ victory.
Bickersteth didn’t disappoint, stamping Michigan’s sweep of the second set with the match’s clinching point. And he was by no means alone in the Wolverines’ dominating second sets against the Buckeyes — a crucial element of Michigan’s 4-0 victory over Ohio State on Friday.
Specific technical adjustments from seniors Patrick Maloney and Andrew Fenty helped them capture second set victories in their singles matches.
“(Fenty) started to tone down (his aggression) a little bit and used the court more,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said. “(Maloney) started to mix in serves and volleys.”
Taking on Ohio State’s No. 1 singles Matej Vocel, ranked No. 5 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, Fenty’s change in style of play came at a much-needed time. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first set, he dropped the ensuing six games to lose, 6-4. But in the second set, Fenty slowed his points and played against Vocel’s aggressive tendencies.
For Maloney, taking on Tracy was no easier task. But keeping his head up to pull off a much-needed set victory, he sustained his unrelenting drive through the second set.
“(Maloney) knows that if he gets down on himself, that can affect another point, not just his,” Steinberg said. “It’ll help the other guys when they see the scores in the second set starting to change.”
And more scores certainly helped spur that change.
Following Fenty’s 5-3 lead over Vocel in his second set, Maloney seized a 5-3 lead of his own. Together, their raised arms called for more cheers from the crowd.
For Michigan, though, it didn’t stop at Bickersteth, Fenty and Maloney. It extended to the other side of the Varsity Tennis Center.
Junior Ondrej Styler led that change, and — despite recurring injuries to his left and right wrists this season — he served as a connecting force between sophomore Gavin Young and graduate student Nick Beaty, the Wolverines’ No. 4 and No. 6 singles.
“I think the connection between all three of us was great from start to finish,” Styler said. “I had some tough moments to close out the second set … and there’s definitely credit to (Beaty), who gave me the confidence to close my match.”
In one of those tough moments, Styler found a way to tie his second set against No. 8 Cannon Kingsley at three games apiece after Beaty captured a 4-2 lead in his.
With Styler and Beaty each scoring a singles point — both finishing two sets 6-4 and 6-4 — Young was left to fend off Ohio State’s Jake Van Emburgh. Before the Wolverines clinched victory, Young settled on a 4-3 lead.
Across both sides of the Varsity Tennis Center, Michigan played as an unstoppable unit in their second sets, fueling victories and unfinished leads across the board.
“(Our goal) is to play as a team better than anyone in the country,” Steinberg said. “That’s what we try and do.”
If the Wolverines’ sweep of the second set is any indication, their unity could get them there.