For Friday’s Fan Appreciation Day at the Varsity Tennis Center, No. 5 Michigan treated its loyal supporters to a thorough 6-1 shellacking of Michigan State and free pizza. Overall it was an efficient affair. Only one Spartan made it past the second set, while none of the pizza made it past the national anthem.
With the win, the defending Big Ten champions extend their streak to 10 in a row against Michigan State and 43-17 all time. Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein’s first full class of seniors will now graduate with a perfect record against the Spartans.
“It’s such a big rivalry between the two schools, so coming out on top is always fun,” said senior captain Whitney Taney, who has never seen the Wolverines do worse than 6-1 against the Michigan State. “They were ready and pumped, and we were too, so it was a good match.”
Although the final outcome was never in serious doubt, Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) began the evening on a note of frustration when the No. 1 doubles team of senior Denise Muresan and freshman Brooke Bolender couldn’t survive the Spartan serving game, losing 8-5 on a ball returned into the net.
With sophomore Mimi Nguyen and freshman Sam Critser securing the No. 3 doubles win, 8-2, all eyes then fell upon the No. 2 court where Taney and senior Rika Tatsuno seemed to be giving ground to a fierce Michigan State comeback. After several poorly placed shots and a brief lapse in focus that resulted in a momentary tie at 6-6, however, the senior duo regained composure to break the Spartans’ rally and clinch matchpoint on Taney’s serve to win 8-6.
“We were a little shaky in doubles, to be honest,” Bernstein said. “I think they were a little tight, and they just didn’t play their best in doubles today. (Michigan State) came in with a lot of energy and fought hard. It wasn’t an easy match, and we had to pick it up.
“We were fortunate to win that doubles point.”
The Wolverines got back on track during the singles matches. Both No. 1 Muresan and No. 2 Bolender shook off the doubles loss and trounced their opponents, each collecting a perfect 6-0 set. In fact, Bolender gave up only one game in two sets against Michigan State freshman powerhitter Valentina Rusakova.
“(Rusakova) just swung really hard,” Bolender said. “She was controlling most of the points because she’s bigger than me and hit the ball really hard, so I just tried to make her play a lot of balls, tried moving her around as much as I could. I knew her game style going in, and usually players with that game style have a hard time when you change up the pace and slice it up.”
Though Taney and Nguyen also won their No. 4 and No. 5 matches without much difficulty, Michigan wasn’t without a couple close calls — No. 3 freshman Sam Critser traded advantages with Spartan sophomore Nicole Herzog four times before claiming the first set 7-5 — and a little heartbreak.
Kari Wig made a rare appearance in the singles lineup, temporarily substituting for Tatsuno at the No. 6 position. Despite dropping her first set 3-6 to Michigan State sophomore Michaela Silesova, Wig wrestled control of the second set 6-3 to force a third set. When Wig appeared poised for a matchpoint opportunity, Silesova began to carve away her lead, eventually reclaiming momentum and notching the Spartans’ only win of the evening.
“Kari’s done a lot for our program,” Bernstein said. “She’s in her fourth year and hasn’t had an opportunity to play much, so I wanted to give her an opportunity to play, and unfortunately she fell a little short. She hasn’t played too many matches, so I think that showed a little bit in the end. She’s a great kid. She fought hard, and I think nerves got the best of her in the end.”
The Wolverines take a hiatus from Big Ten play this week as they travel to Coral Gables, Fla. on Wednesday to take on No. 8 Miami, and then to Orlando on Saturday to take on the University of Central Florida.