Match Point. Again.
Giulia Pairone prepared as the ball soared toward her. She swung and watched as the ball went past the baseline and, eventually, out of bounds.
Just like that, the Georgia Bulldogs earned their fourth and final point.
And just like that, the Michigan Wolverines’ season came to an end.
But not for lack of trying, though. This Michigan women’s tennis team beat records, won championships, and still had a lot to prove.
The Wolverines came out with a bang. They won the doubles point with wins from the senior duo of Kate Fahey and Brienne Minor at the No. 1 spot, 6-3, and sophomore Alyvia Jones and junior Lera Patiuk at the No. 3 spot, 6-3.
Soon after, with a point in the pocket of the sixteenth-ranked Wolverines, No. 3-ranked Fahey emphatically defeated No. 2-ranked Katarina Jokic, 6-0, 6-4, at the No. 1 spot, giving Michigan its lone other victory. Jokic was one of five players whom Fahey had fallen to earlier in the season.
“(Fahey)’s playing confidently,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “She’s tough. She doesn’t give you anything – you gotta earn points against her. If she gets to that point next week where she’s just relaxed and kind going for it, she’s gonna be a tough one to beat.”
The other five singles matches were competitive, but not competitive enough to keep up with the Bulldogs. Jones fell first, 6-0, 6-3, followed by Minor losing 6-3, 6-3 to Georgia’s Lourdes Carle.
Freshman Anca Craciun, motivated to keep the Wolverines alive in the wake of Fahey’s win, held a 5-2 lead in the second set after dropping the first, but No. 122-ranked Bulldog Meg Kowalski came storming back to tie the set at 5. The match headed to a tiebreaker, where Craciun won the first two points. Kowalski answered with seven consecutive points to give Georgia a 3-2 lead.
Then came the crushing longshot from Pairone that sealed the Wolverines’ fate.
“I think, in some sets, we didn’t play well enough,” Bernstein said. “But, you know, you’re playing the number one team in the country, putting up a good fight. And I think the doubles point, we knew going in would give us an opportunity, and to beat a team like that, you gotta get a good start.
“We did a really good job on the doubles. But for the bigger points, they just played better. We had a couple second sets that were super close, and we just couldn’t pull them out. So, I mean, that’s the difference when you play arguably one of the best teams in the country.”
Michigan is still out for blood, though. The No. 1 spot of Fahey and Minor, ranked No. 37 in the country, will compete for a doubles title. Additionally No. 3 Fahey, No. 50 Minor and No. 48-ranked Chiara Lommer will compete in the NCAA Singles Tournament next weekend in Orlando, which is the first time ever that three Wolverines will be competing.
As the season comes to a close, the Wolverines reflect.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” Bernstein said. “We came together. I feel like we were better at the end of the season than when we started. And that’s your goal as a coach — to see improvement.
“(Saturday) was disappointing in that we were close, almost getting through that, but if you look big picture I feel like we had a really good year.”