After a sound trouncing of Penn State on Saturday – winning all but one of 15 matches – the Michigan club tennis team has improved its record to 6-0. As it is the defending regional champion, this easy win comes as no surprise.
What is surprising is the fact that in just four years, the Wolverines have managed to piece together a team that is now ranked seventh in the nation. They started out in the fall of 1998 with around 50 players and managed a winning record despite some problems. With that many players, matches were disorganized and court fees were exorbitant. The team decided to implement cuts, and that is when the team started to really take shape.
“Good high school players were always around, but they were overshadowed by too many weaker players,” club Vice President Justin Street said. “When we started cutting, great players started coming out of the woodwork.”
Top-ranked male player Nnamudi Amobi said: “A lot of it has to do with the fact that Michigan high school tennis is very competitive. We are a great outlet for those players who still want to compete, but want to avoid the extensive commitment of varsity tennis.”
However, even with all that talent, the club team faces many barriers to success. President Joanna Wu regrets the loss of many players who were forced to quit the team because of the financial commitment.
“They could play the game, but they couldn’t afford to pay for it,” Wu said.
Team Treasurer Brian Tracy also laments the excessive charges members are forced to pay the Michigan Varsity Tennis Center for membership as well as court time.
“It’s hard because we receive minimal funding from (the Michigan Student Assembly) and the (recreational) sports department, amounting to less than 10 percent of our overall budget,” Tracy said.
Practicing just twice a week during the off hours of 10 p.m. to midnight, the team still spends an average of $1,000 per month on court fees. Another obstacle in the way of their success is the lack of coed club teams in the area.
Street says that team members enjoy their status as “the powerhouse for the places that get snow,” but that the lack of developed women’s programs in the area makes for a frustrating season for the women. With most of the well-developed women’s programs centered in the South and on the East Coast, the travel and lodging costs keep many desirable opponents firmly out of reach.
Amobi asserts that “other schools around here need to take some initiative.”
Competitive women’s teams will develop “probably a couple years down the road. Hopefully sooner rather than later,” Street said.
The men on the team are as frustrated as the women about the lack of women’s teams because they have a very close, supportive relationship, both on and off the courts. They went to the Counting Crows concert as a team earlier this year, and are planning on catching the band again in Florida, where they will be competing for the national title later this year.
Men’s team player Andrew DeSilva proclaimed that “when you come to Michigan, you think about the Big House on Saturday afternoons and wild hockey games at Yost (Ice Arena), but the real hidden dynasty at Michigan is club tennis.”