The departure of four seniors is a difficult obstacle for almost any team to overcome.

But this is not the case for the No. 10 Michigan women’s tennis team, which has gone from strength to strength with the addition of four new freshmen that have fit seamlessly into the lineup.

“They haven’t missed a beat, as they really get along well,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “We needed them to step up because we have so many (freshmen) and we needed them to play in the lineup and play a big role early on.”

In contrast to last season, the team is composed of just two upperclassmen and six underclassmen, including the four freshmen.

This dynamic was evident in the Wolverines’ victories this past weekend over Yale and Maryland at the ITA Kick-off, where the underclassmen played key roles in both wins.

Freshman Emina Bektas has led the way, claiming her third Big Ten Athlete of the Week award after posting wins in both No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles over the weekend.

Still, the freshman is quick to shy from the spotlight.

“It is a nice recognition to get, but the only thing that really matters to me was us getting the win this weekend and moving on to the college indoors,” Bektas said.

Despite the loss of the four seniors — from a team that won the Big Ten title two seasons in a row, no less — the expectations for this team have not been lowered.

“Whether we have new faces or returners, that is going to be the goal,” Bernstein said. “We’ve made the Final 16 the past two years, and we definitely want to take it a step further with that this year. Even though we are young, our goals have not dropped any. There is no time, they have to contribute now.”

A returning starter from last year, sophomore Brooke Bolender, will be aiming towards these high expectations after a strong first season (35-9, singles).

This season, following the loss of All-American Denise Muresan, Bolender has formed a strong pairing with Bektas.

“I think we really complement each other,” Bolender said. “We are a pretty aggressive team, we both like to play the same way so we share the court. I feel like we’re improving every day, getting more comfortable with each other.”

The partnership has proven successful thus far after winning their three matches together.

But the season will only become tougher for the youthful team. The test begins this weekend when Michigan faces their first true road test in Nashville against No. 17 Vanderbilt and then against No. 19 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.

“This is a big weekend, as our young kids are on the road for the first time,” Bernstein said. “We’ve had the luxury of being at home for the first three matches, so it is going to be a different wrinkle. We’re going to be on the road, and we’re playing Vanderbilt and Tennessee which is very tough. It will be good to see how the young kids handle it, but I expect a tough trip for sure.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.