Looking to build upon last season’s Sweet 16 appearance, the Michigan women’s tennis team is off to a promising start in the preseason. In its second team tournament of the fall, the Wolverines had a solid three days at the Bulldog Tennis Classic in Athens, Ga. this weekend.
“The competition was great and there were great teams there,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “Some obviously did better than others with hitting the ball, but I feel as a team we really did a good job.”
The non-scoring tournament was the first opportunity for the coaches to evaluate the entire team, as several players didn’t suit up for the Spartan Invitational three weeks ago.
Michigan returns six starters from last year’s Big Ten Championship squad, while adding two freshmen. After a slow start Friday, the Wolverines won 11 of 13 matches on the second day of competition.
“It was good to have the freshmen there and see what they can do,” Bernstein said. “It gave us the opportunity to see everybody at the same time and kind of see where we stand with some of the best teams in the country.”
No. 48 sophomore Sam Critser and junior Mimi Nguyen both went 3-0 in their singles matches, setting the tone for the rest of the team’s turnaround. Sophomore Brooke Bolender, ranked No. 62, forced a third set in each of her three matches. After falling short in a tiebreaker on Friday, she rebounded with another pair of three-setters on the last two days of the tournament to end the weekend at 2-1.
But Bolender was not the only underclassman that impressed over the weekend. After losing the first set on Sunday, freshman Sarah Lee came back and beat No. 123 Lilly Kimbell of Georgia in three sets 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, picking up her first collegiate win over a ranked opponent.
The doubles teams also improved after early struggles. Critser and Lee, Nguyen and senior Michelle Sulahian, and the No. 17 team of Boldener and freshman Emina Bektas all lost on Friday, but took 5-of-6 matches the rest of the tournament. The most impressive doubles victory of the weekend came from Critser and Lee, who defeated the No. 8 team of Emily Fraser and Hana Tomljanovic of Virginia, 8-4.
Though the early victories are exciting, Michigan does not want to get ahead of itself.
“There are things we need to get better at,” Bernstein said. “We made it to the final 16 two years in a row, so the goal is to go further than that.”
With another strong season, the Wolverines will return to these same courts in Athens for the NCAA tournament in May.
“I know they want to repeat and do well in the Big Ten it’s so early, it’s October,” Bernstein said. “We’re just going day-by-day, so we have to work on some things and get better and hopefully we will be peaking in May.”