When you think about fairytale endings to a doubles career, this is just about as close as you can get.
Michigan senior duo Kate Fahey and Brienne Minor played their first and last NCAA doubles tournament together this past weekend, and, against all odds, finished second in the nation.
Going into the tournament unranked and being seeded to play some extremely tough pairs, Fahey and Minor were just along for the ride.
“We came into the tournament unseeded, so I thought we came in there without any pressure,” Minor said. “I don’t think anyone expected anything from us, so we kind of came in relaxed. We were just having fun on the court, especially being seniors, it was our last tournament together. We went out there and had fun and played to our strengths and did what we do best.”
Added Fahey: “(Minor) and I didn’t even know if we were going to get in. I mean, it was kind of on the fence, so we were just happy to get into the tournament. It’s a really huge tournament with the best players in the country, so we were really happy we got the last opportunity to play with each other. And I think we really just went one match at a time. We didn’t look forward, we didn’t look through anyone. We knew each match was going to be tough, and we really took care of it in each match.”
In their first tournament game, Fahey and Minor came away with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Virginia’s 17th-ranked Meghan Kelley and Sofia Munera to advance the round of 16. The Wolverine pair went up a break at 2-1 and that was all it needed to take a first set win, 6-1.
Michigan grabbed an early 2-0 lead before Virginia evened the match at two. Fahey held her next time back at the service line, with another Wolverine break to follow for a 4-2 lead. With the momentum in its favor, Michigan won the final two games to take a 6-2 lead. The Wolverines broke the Cavaliers in the final game, winning a deuce point to send Michigan to the second round.
The next round featured a matchup with 11th-ranked Elysia Bolton and Jada Hart of UCLA. Michigan took an early lead, then came through on two deuce points for a strong 4-2 advantage. Fahey and Minor got another break and then served out the set in the ensuing game for a 6-2 first-set win.
In the second set, the points went back and forth, allowing the Bruins to tie at three. The Wolverines then grabbed two break points on UCLA’s serve in the ninth game of that set. Tied at 5-4 with the opportunity to serve, the Bruins were able to break the Wolverines in the next game, tying the set at 5. The second set was sent into a tiebreaker. It was all Michigan in the breaker as the Wolverines won the first two points. That was all the distance Fahey and Minor needed to take a 7-2 win.
The victory made Fahey and Minor the first Michigan duo to advance to the quarterfinals of the doubles tournament in program history. By advancing to the quarterfinals, Fahey and Minor solidified All-American doubles honors.
Down to the round of eight, Fahey and Minor faced Georgia’s No. 28 Katarina Jokic and Lourdes Carle. The first set featured three breaks of serve to start before Michigan held at love for a 3-1 lead. Both teams held serve the next time back before the Wolverines dominated off the deuce point of the Bulldogs’ serve for a big 5-2 advantage. Michigan served out the set in the next game and secured a 6-2 win.
The second set started just like the first one did — the teams exchanged breaks to start. Georgia quickly capitalized for an early 3-1 lead. The Wolverines got the break right back, winning the deuce point on the Bulldogs’ next service game to get the ball back on their side, winning the point and tying at three. Georgia held on its serve and then broke Michigan on the deuce point to take a 5-3 lead. The Bulldogs won the next game to take the second set and send the match to a 10-point tiebreaker third set.
The Wolverines gained control early in the breaker set, grabbing a 5-2 lead. Michigan held four match points following a 9-5 advantage, but Georgia answered back with three straight points to close the gap to just a point at 9-8. Michigan came through on the next point to wrap up a 10-8 win for the match.
Down to the Final Four, Minor and Fahey punched their ticket to the national championship match with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 3 Ingrid Gamarra Martins and Mia Horvit of South Carolina.
The Wolverines raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first set and never looked back. The Gamecocks got on the board at 3-1, which ignited a run of four straight holds between the two teams. South Carolina headed back to serve to stay in the set at 5-2, but Michigan came away with the final three points to win, 6-2.
South Carolina took an early 2-0 lead in the second set, taking advantage of a pair of Michigan double faults in the first game to get the break. Minor held at love in the third game to cut the Wolverine deficit. Michigan, running on momentum and strong hitting, took a 5-2 lead. In the final game, South Carolina had service, and a deuce lob attempt went long to seal a Michigan win.
With that, Fahey and Minor advanced to the national championship game, where the match against No. 5 Gabby Andrews and Ayan Broomfield of UCLA awaited.
It was all UCLA early in the first set as the Bruins jumped to a 4-0 lead. The teams exchanged serving to make the score 5-1 in favor of UCLA. Michigan won the next three games, closing in the deficit to 5-4 but Michigan fought off three set points tied it at 5. The Wolverines held their serve the next time back to the line, taking a 6-5 lead. UCLA double faulted on set point for Michigan, wrapping up a 7-5 Wolverine first set win.
Fahey had service for the second set. Neither team could hold serve in the middle games of the set as the Bruins took a 5-4 lead after breaking the Wolverines with a deuce-point winner. UCLA once again headed back to serve out the set, but Michigan was able to tie the set at 5. The Bruins were quickly able to break for a 6-5 lead. The Wolverines broke back for a 6-6 tie, sending the second set to a tiebreaker.
UCLA won the three final points of the tiebreaker, fighting off a Michigan match point to take an 8-6 win to send the championship match to a 10-point tiebreaker.
The teams went back and forth during the 10-point tiebreaker, with the Wolverines grabbing a 7-5 lead. Michigan fought off a match point as UCLA took a 9-8 lead to tie it at 9. The Bruins won the next two points to take the match and the national title.
For a pair that almost didn’t happen, Fahey and Minor ended their career in the maize and blue representing their team in one of the best ways possible. They weren’t always put together at No. 1, and only started playing consistently as a duo once Big Ten play started this past March.
But that didn’t stunt their growth and dominance as a doubles pair.
“We didn’t have them necessarily as partners — you try to have three teams that you feel like you can get that doubles point,” said coach Ronni 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, and then almost national champions.
“I actually wanted them both to get in the individuals (tournament) so it was in the back of my mind to try to get them in because I knew they could possibly make a run like they did this week. It worked out. I’m really happy for them,” said Bernstein. “A lot of times, you aren’t going to win your last match in college, but (Fahey and Minor) gave everything they had, and just came up a little bit short. But as far as their careers and stuff, they’re probably the most decorated class we’ve ever had.”