That’s the number of singles players the Michigan men’s tennis team currently has ranked in the top twenty-five of the latest set of Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA)’s rankings.
And, among the eight teams left in the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines join Virginia as the only teams to hold this designation. But even without that merit, Michigan has six ranked singles players ranked in the top 125, while the Cavaliers hold five.
“We count on everyone because we’re so deep,” Michigan coach Adam Steinberg said on May 6.
This “all hands on deck” attitude contributes to the Wolverines’ strategy of not relying on any one player or doubles duo.
Since March 20, junior Ondrej Styler has been consistently slotted into Michigan’s No. 1 singles position, moving senior Andrew Fenty down to No. 2.
But, after Fenty’s loss against Ohio State’s No. 2 singles player on April 15, senior Patrick Maloney was put into the Wolverines’ No. 2 position and has remained there.
Since the move, Maloney has posted a 5-1 singles record, and Fenty — now in the No. 3 position — has also fared better, sporting a 4-1 record over the same period.
“They’re playing with great confidence,” Steinberg said on May 6. “(Styler and Maloney) have had terrific years, so it’s been fun watching their improvement.”
Fenty’s season, on the other hand, has been a bag of mixed results. His high-profile victories include a seemingly effortless 6-1 and 6-2 win over Columbia’s Alex Kotzen — ranked No. 9 by the ITA — and another compelling three-set win over Longhorn Pierre-Yves Bailly in the Super Regional.
Earlier this season though — when he played at the Wolverines’ No. 1 and No. 2 positions — Fenty faltered in key spots for Michigan, namely during an straight sets loss against Harvard’s No. 17 Henry von der Schulenberg and during a tight loss to Northwestern’s unranked Simen Bratholm.
But even with his faults, Fenty has shown a late season resurgence, headlined by a seamless 6-2 and 6-1 win over Michigan State’s No. 3 singles player.
“I’ve had a tough Big Ten season,” Fenty said on April 23 after his win over his Spartan opponent. “Today, it felt like it was 0-0, and I started a new season … I tried to be consistent and aggressive at the same time.”
After Styler, Maloney and Fenty settled into their roles at the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 positions, respectively, their performances headline the Wolverines’ perfect 7-0 record since Apr. 23. To that end, Michigan hopes to tack onto its win streak in the NCAA Tournament as its competition narrows in every round.
But, as that pool becomes smaller, Michigan becomes more likely to match up against teams featuring highly ranked singles players or doubles pairs, and that begins with its Quarterfinals match versus the No. 4-seeded Buckeyes.
Ohio State also holds six singles players ranked in the top 125 — three of whom are ranked in the top twenty-five. On top of that, the Buckeyes sport two doubles duos ranked ahead of the No. 24-ranked pairing of Fenty and sophomore Nino Ehrenschneider.
However, these rankings fail to encapsulate the Wolverines’ doubles success throughout the season.
Behind Fenty and Ehrenschneider, the Wolverines’ No. 2 pair of graduate student Nick Beaty and Maloney have not slacked in their role, sustaining a 18-2 record in dual action and capturing wins over three ranked duos.
“Beaty and I have been playing well all season,” Maloney said on May 14. “(Being) unranked with the results and record we have is (something) we take personally. And, if we get a chance to play a ranked opponent, we get a little extra fired up.”
Michigan will face plenty of ranked opponents in its fourth and final matchup with Ohio State this year.
Heading into their final week of team competition this season, the Wolverines will look to solidify their vested trust in each other.
“The biggest thing for us is connecting with each other while we play,” Maloney said on May 14. “Neutral or away, it’s all the same for us.”
And, if they do as such, Michigan will have a chance to advance into the Tournament Semifinals.