As it looks back at its non-conference schedule, the Michigan men’s tennis team will see five currently ranked teams. Fortunately, the Wolverines will see more wins than loses beside the names of these top-25 programs.
Michigan’s non-conference schedule was tough from beginning to end. The Wolverines started off the non-conference season by cruising over Western Michigan. And after the win over the Broncos, the Wolverines saw eight-straight teams in the top-30.
“I think our tough non-conference schedule is going to help us because of what we have learned about the top teams and how we’re going to get there,” senior Jason Jung said.
The brutal schedule started off at home against now-No. 6 Texas. With the dual match on the line, freshman Shaun Bernstein – the last player on the court – lost a decisive third set and Michigan’s upset bid faded.
The Wolverines then found themselves in Durham, N.C., with an opportunity to face yet another top-10 team. The opportunity turned into a lop-sided defeat, as Michigan was swept for the first time in three years by a high-caliber Duke team. Then-No. 14 Duke beat the Wolverines 7-0 to start the ITA Kick-Off weekend. Sophomore Evan King’s loss to Reid Carlton – ranked No. 6 in the country – was his only loss this season. King now has 12 victories.
After the loss at Duke, Michigan rallied off three straight victories over top-25 teams before falling at home to No. 24 Vanderbilt. The Wolverines answered just as they had after the defeat at Duke. They won the next three matches on the road and defeated two ranked teams, including an avenging defeat over then-No. 6 Duke.
The three-match winning streak wasn’t extended, and Michigan lost back-to-back to Tulsa and LSU. The losses pushed the Wolverines’ record to 7-5, which ranked ninth in the Big Ten.
“I don’t focus on records or anything like that but I think we did pretty well,” Jung said. “There were a couple matches where I think we could have done better, but we’ve learned from those.”
But the Wolverines showed on Sunday that the number of non-conference wins doesn’t translate to automatic success in the Big Ten. Michigan defeated its rival Michigan State on the road, 6-1, to open conference play in decisive fashion. This was just the Spartans’ second loss all season.
Michigan played one of the toughest – if not the toughest – non-conference schedules in the Big Ten. Despite ranking ninth in total wins and seventh in winning percentage, the Wolverines rank No. 16 in the polls, behind only No. 4 Ohio State and No. 9 Illinois.
“I think it’s always good to play top teams just so you get a feel for how they play and what they are about and it definitely shows that we’re up there and I think we have something to prove,” Jung said.
As the second week of Big Ten play looms, Michigan will have another chance to prove its readiness for the conference. Michigan travels to Indiana this weekend to play Purdue and IU, both of whom are in the top-40. After this weekend on the road, Michigan will return to Ann Arbor to face Wisconsin and No. 23 Minnesota.