The Michigan women’s tennis team is coming off its best season of all time, and its expectations are even higher for this year.
Several of the top players are returning to the Wolverines from the strong campaign. The added experience to the already talented roster, along with an infusion of young talent, opens the window for a national championship.
In 2023, the Wolverines went a perfect 11-0 in Big Ten play and won the conference tournament. Michigan carried that success into the postseason, winning three rounds in the NCAA Tournament, to be one of the final eight teams vying for the national championship. It was the only season in team history that the Wolverines accomplished all of these feats.
Team 50 is the best in program history so far. But as Michael Jordan would say, the ceiling is the roof.
Success is nothing new to 17th-year coach Ronni Bernstein. She is the winningest coach in Michigan history with a total record of 330-95 and a Big Ten record of 158-8. Bernstein has dominated the conference, never finishing below second in Big Ten standings. That success is built on a strong culture that the players have fully bought into for years.
“The biggest thing Ronni brings to the team is a balance of intensity and humor that helps keep us focused while still feeling like we are in a comfortable environment,” senior Kari Miller said to the Daily in May of 2022 after winning Big Ten athlete of the year. “She really wants the best for us on and off the court.”
It’s a culture that breeds winning, and with her most talented team yet, Bernstein should look to capitalize on a national stage. The balance of intensity and humor builds chemistry, which is crucial to winning beyond the individual level. Every program has its winningest coach of all time, but few have a championship-level coach. Bernstein is at that caliber. And with the right team around her, she can take them to unreached heights.
Kari Miller headlines a strong senior class. She has finished all-Big Ten and top 50 in the ITA singles rankings every year of her career. Currently, Miller is ranked top 10 in the country for the first time. A senior of her caliber and experience is the perfect general to lead troops into battle.
In the season-ending loss to Georgia last year, she won her doubles match and was winning her singles match in the third set before it was abandoned. After suffering a loss completely out of her control, Miller undoubtedly has the motivation to go after her final shot at the title in her fourth season as No. 1 singles. With her leadership, that fuel can be injected into the whole Michigan team.
Senior Jaeden Brown completes the dynamic duo at No. 2 singles. Ever since the two blue chips committed together in 2020, Brown and Miller have headlined Michigan as a top singles and doubles pair. They finished as a top-five doubles team in the country to end their junior seasons with a combined record of 26-10 at No. 1 and 2 singles in dual matches.
But it’s not just Miller and Brown that make this team championship contenders. The Wolverines have a title-worthy mix of veterans and young stars to round out the lineup.
Junior Julia Fliegner and sophomore Lily Jones both enter the season in the top 50 of the ITA rankings. Fliegner and Jones both already had winning records at No. 3 and 4 singles, respectively, in 2023 while also dominating the No. 2 doubles spot together. They would easily be the top two players on almost any other team in the country. With strong years under both of their belts, Fliegner and Jones have the tools to dominate in tangent with Miller and Brown.
Experience isn’t the only aspect of the team that sets expectations high. Top-ranked freshmen Piper Charney and Reese Miller — Kari’s sister — have impressed in preseason action, including an 11-1 combined record at the Wolverine invitational.
Given its talent and experience, Michigan’s window is wide open. The Wolverines are the clear favorites to three-peat as Big Ten champions and compete for the national title. Miller and Brown have been battle-tested at the top of the team for their entire college careers, and it will show in the pressure of the NCAA Tournament.
The main threat to Michigan’s hopes for a championship is last year’s champion, North Carolina. The Tar Heels return nine of their 10 players, the sole newcomer being a blue-chip freshman. However, there will never be an easy road to a national title.
The Wolverines have scaled the Big Ten mountain several times, and it’s time to set the expectation even higher. With Bernstein at the helm, Michigan will likely always be an elite program, but the time to win its first national championship is now.