The door was there.
The No. 21 Michigan men’s tennis team just forgot how to close it.
Up two breaks in the final set, sophomore Scott Bruckmann was on his way to his fifth-consecutive singles win. But as Penn State junior James Dwyer’s backhand slice calmed Bruckmann’s forehand, the dual match rested on a tiebreak.
With No. 54 Penn State leading 3-2, boisterous fans and a controversial call fired up the Sarasota, Fla., native. But Dwyer would silence the crowd to a 6-2 advantage. Although Bruckmann battled back to 6-4, a passing forehand by Bruckmann fell wide on the final point, giving Penn State the win, 4-3.
The once-energetic Varsity Tennis Center turned eerie. With the crowd exiting in silence and a lengthy team meeting, everyone knew this wasn’t supposed to happen.
“It hurts because we’re at home, we’re in the Big Ten and we know we’re better than that team,” senior captain Ryan Heller said. “It’s just hard.”
The weekend wasn’t all hard as Michigan (1-1 Big Ten, 9-4 overall) swept Ball State (4-6) the night before. Claiming five of six singles matches in straight sets, the Wolverines seemed ready to win consecutive dual matches for the first time in a month.
Michigan came out strong against the Nittany Lions (2-1, 9-2) in the doubles matches. Heller and sophomore Andrew Mazlin earned a quick victory and the freshmen pair of Mike Sroczynski and George Navas executed in the clutch to start the Wolverines on the right foot.
But that’s where most of the highlights end.
“I was disappointed for sure – disappointed with the result, and there’s no question we didn’t play our best tennis,” Michigan coach Bruce Berque said.
Jumping to a 7-4 lead, senior captain Brian Hung and junior captain Matko Maravic had the doubles match wrapped up. But after missing volleys, the No. 2 duo gave up five straight games for their second loss of the dual season.
“We didn’t close the door,” Hung said. “Usually, Matko and I do a good job in that respect. Once we’re up, we usually don’t let anybody back in the game. But today, we just let it slip.”
Despite leaving the door open, Michigan still had numerous opportunities to slam it shut. With the dual knotted at two, Hung, Mazlin and Bruckmann were all up at least a break in their third set. But all three gave up those leads, and Mazlin was the only one to pull out the victory, which proved costly to the Wolverines.
Michigan continued to fight for every point, but the concentration from previous matches had dissapeared.
“The side of competitiveness that relates to discipline and playing smart when you have a lead was not there,” Berque said. “Energy and intensity is a big part of it, but I also think that intelligent and disciplined play is a part of it, too.”
While Mazlin improved to 9-2 with a three-match winning streak, Hung has dropped three straight singles matches and five consecutive overall.
Michigan’s previous losses have come to similar- and higher-ranked opponents. Suffering their first major upset of the season, the Wolverines have finally received their wake-up call.
“When you lose to a team like Texas A&M, you can be like, ‘Well, they’re around the same ranking as us; they’re just as good as us,’ ” Heller said. “But when you play a team like Penn State, you know you’re better than them. Today, they might have played better than us, but that all comes with preparing for each and every match.”
Unable to make any excuses, Michigan knew it was far from where it should be. During the team meeting following the match, the Wolverines felt they needed to run practice a little differently.
“If we see anybody on the day not really working as hard as they can be, as teammates we have to point it out,” Hung said. “Right now, we’re all leaving it to (coach) Bruce and (assistant coach) Sean (Maymi) to motivate us, and it’s tough (for them). And it’s kind of tiring to listen to Bruce and Sean. So we agreed as teammates, we have to do the same thing.”