Alyvia Jones took a breath, hoisted up the ball and smacked it over the net.
Her opponent swung and missed.
The crowd went wild. Her team approached her. The sophomore had just clinched her team’s victory.
For the second consecutive year, the Michigan women’s tennis team are Big Ten Champions.
“It was definitely really special to get the win,” Jones said. “But honestly I wanted to win for the team knowing that we had accomplished regular season so being a tournament champ would just add to that.”
As glorious as that moment was, it wasn’t all fun and games for the Wolverines. Michigan (18-5 overall, 11-0 Big Ten) struggled early on to their title opponent Illinois (16-11, 8-3). They lost their doubles point with a weak game and then came back to win four singles ––– an all-too-familiar scenario.
Earlier in the season, the exact same thing happened on the Fighting Illini’s home turf. And again, down 1-0 going into singles after a doubles loss, the Wolverines came back fighting.
Senior Kate Fahey was the second victory for Michigan, using the fuel from the doubles loss to add to her fire.
“I think, honestly, sometimes it’s almost good losing the doubles point,” Fahey said. “Because then, you’re almost playing with fire … you’re just a little bit angry after you lose. It’s like a wake-up call. You’re like, ‘okay, we need to get ourselves together,’ which is what (Michigan coach) Ronni (Bernstein) said to us.”
With the Wolverines up 2-1 after third-ranked Fahey’s strong singles win, senior Brienne Minor and Jones closed out the match with the final two points necessary for a Michigan victory.
“To be honest, to get two of the three (doubles wins) this weekend, I’m okay with our doubles,” Bernstein said. “And I believe against any team in the country that we have a pretty good singles lineup. Even if we don’t take the doubles point, that we can still somehow find four singles points. And I really think we can, especially the way we played yesterday.”
Demonstrated by their record, their consecutive conference and tournament titles and multiple players being nationally ranked, Michigan has shown an undeniable strength and chemistry on the court that wasn’t always there.
But now it’s certainly growing at the right time.
“I think the key to being a successful team is getting everyone to play well at the same time,” Fahey said. “At the beginning of the season, a few of us would play well, a few of us didn’t, and we couldn’t really click as a team. But now, I feel like we’re all playing well together … like, I honestly feel, looking down the line, that I can count of any of our nine players to pull out the match, which I didn’t feel at the beginning of the season. So, it’s definitely a good feeling. And it gives me confidence playing my match, because I know that if I don’t come through, one of the other girls can come through.”
Upon their title clinch, the Wolverines were announced as regional hosts for the first rounds of the approaching NCAA Tournament.
“Win and keep going.”