Steve Peretz screamed “Out!” and galloped into the arms of teammates Brian Hung and Ryan Heller.
The three seniors embraced as the record crowd of 467 Michigan fans stood on their feet celebrating the first victory over No. 8 Illinois in 10 years. On the other side of the court, Peretz’s opponent, Brandon Davis, slammed his racquet against the sidewall in frustration.
Peretz’s 6-4, 6-3 victory at No. 5 singles sealed the match for the 19th-ranked Wolverines. Junior Matko Maravic later put the exclamation mark on the evening with a three-set upset over 15th-ranked Ryan Rowe at No. 2 singles, setting the final score 5-2.
On Sunday, Michigan topped off the weekend with a 6-1 victory over Purdue (1-8, 8-9). But the win against Illinois (4-1 Big Ten, 12-6 Overall) marks a highpoint in the career of Michigan coach Bruce Berque.
“This is definitely a milestone win for our team,” Berque said.
Said Peretz: “This win really shows that we can do it. There is a real reason besides you probably can or you have a good chance of beating them. Well, no, we just beat them, all of our hard work paid off.”
Berque, who was an assistant coach at Illinois from 1999 to 2004, had nothing but praise for his former team.
“There is no reason for me to take special satisfaction in beating the team that I worked at for six years and had nothing but fantastic experiences with,” Berque said.
But Berque’s players did revel in defeating their coach’s former team.
“He’s got to be the hardest working coach in the Big Ten, if not the country,” Peretz said. “He’s got to want that one, and we wanted to do it very badly for him.”
The night did not start off so well. Michigan found itself in an early 0-2 hole.
Coming into Friday, the Wolverines won four straight doubles points via sweep. The streak ended when the No. 2 doubles duo of Ryan Heller and Andrew Mazlin lost 6-8 in a back and forth match. But the No. 3 team of Mike Sroczynski and George Navas knotted the score with a scrappy 8-6 victory.
At No. 1 doubles, Hung and Maravic lost a competitive match to defending NCAA champions Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe. Hung and Maravic were unable to break serve with leads at 7-6 and 8-7, which forced the match into a tiebreaker. In the extra set, the Illinois duo took advantage of some unforced Michigan errors to run away with a 9-8(1) victory, capturing the doubles point for the Fighting Illini.
At one point during doubles play, a Michigan player yelled, “don’t get scared,” as mild encouragement to his teammates. Berque believed that in doubles his team came out slow.
“I don’t think they were as aggressive and didn’t play to their own level. They were playing not to miss rather than to go after it,” Berque said.
In singles the momentum continued to tilt for Illinois when Brain Hung lost a quick match 1-6, 1-6 to give the Illini a 2-0 lead.
After surrendering the first two points of the night, Michigan (7-1, 16-4) responded, winning the last five matches.
“In times of challenge, that’s when you need to step up, not in times of comfort, and that’s what we definitely did today,” Michigan senior captain Ryan Heller said. “We stepped up when we were challenged.”
Mazlin, Heller and Navas all pulled off close matches to give Michigan a 3-2 lead, setting the stage for Peretz.
As Peretz served for the win, the fans crowded around the court to encourage the senior in his biggest match as a Wolverine.
“Once the crowd comes out and we get to feed off their energy, it is such a big lift,” Heller said.
The Michigan fans cheered the seniors as they hugged after Peretz’s match.
“There have been a lot of hard times,” Peretz said. “This is something we have always fought for, and it actually happened.”
The seniors have seen the team improve from seventh in the Big Ten their freshman year, to this season where it is in the hunt for the Big Ten title.
As Illinois dejectedly huddled together after the match, one fan couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition.
“I’ve seen the Michigan team in that position over the last three years,” LSA junior Aubrey Hall said. “It’s really nice to see them come out victorious on the other side.”