For the Michigan women’s tennis team, defeating DePaul has been like clockwork. Coming into Saturday’s match, it had beaten the Blue Demons in each of the last six years.
But for junior Elizabeth Exon, playing DePaul had been anything but smooth sailing. Coming into Saturday’s meet, she had lost both of her career singles matches against DePaul.
But with the Wolverines leading 3-1 – needing just one more flight win to secure a team victory – Exon came through, battling Anja Mihaldinec for a 6-2, 7-6 (9-7) win a majority of the Varsity Tennis Center crowd watching her tiebreaker.
Behind Exon’s victory, the Wolverines earned a 4-3 win over the Blue Demons.
“I tried not to think about (getting my first win against DePaul), but that did drive my motivation,” Exon said. “It was cool, because I didn’t know my match was a clincher. I was trying not to look at the scoreboards. A lot of times, I do that and get distracted. To get my utmost concentration, I can’t do that.”
All of Michigan’s flight victories came at the bottom of the lineup. Despite the team’s bottom-heavy performance on Saturday, Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt does not necessarily think that the lower end of the lineup will be the only source of Michigan’s success this season.
“Our lineup is very interchangeable, which makes for competitive practices” Ritt said. “We didn’t get it done at the top (against DePaul). Other matches, we will. The reality is it’s not a team of superstars. They’re all very good players. Balance is an asset. There is no weak out.”
The Wolverines started the match off on the right foot, when senior Debra Streifler and freshman Chisako Sugiyama coasted to an 8-1 win at No. 2 doubles. After junior Kara Delicata and sophomore Allie Shafner lost 8-1 at No. 1 doubles, freshman Lindsey Howard and senior Nina Yaftali won at No. 3 doubles to earn the doubles point for Michigan.
In singles play, Michigan earned a pair of easy 6-1, 6-2 victories
from Sugiyama at No. 4 and Shafner at No. 6.
“I was able to play my own game instead of adjusting,” Sugiyama said. “I was able to play my A-game. I was just all over the other girl pretty much.”
Yaftali dropped her match at No. 1 6-4, 6-2, setting the stage for Exon’s clincher at No. 5.
Once the Wolverines had the match wrapped up, they dropped a couple of three setters – a matter that bothered Ritt. Streifler lost 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-3 to Antunovic at No. 3, and Delicata fell to Gergana Ganeva 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) at No. 2.
“We pride ourselves in winning three-set matches,” Ritt said. “We’ll work on that.”
After the match, Ritt was beaming about DePaul’s play. While congratulating several Blue Demons, she told them that they will knock off at least one of the three Big Ten teams remaining on their schedule.
“I was concerned (with DePaul),” Ritt said. “They’re better every year. They have talented international players. In no way did I look at this as a tune-up.”