After each win, the Michigan women’s tennis team’s MVP for the match writes the score on a board in its lockerroom.
Every spring, Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt evaluates the board to help her select the year-long MVP.
But there’s a problem this year – the handwriting for each score is different.
“Our team is so balanced this year,” Ritt said. “There have been so many players who have stepped up, worked hard and improved this season. I couldn’t name (the MVP) right now.”
At week’s end, the No. 40 Wolverines (5-3 Big Ten, 12-6 overall) rank near the top of the Big Ten, but are a bubble team for the NCAA Championships in May and are in as much disarray as the WNBA – literally.
Half of the team is injured.
Four of the eight girls on the team are currently suffering ailments that could keep any one of them out of action this weekend against Wisconsin (3-5, 8-11) and No. 23 Northwestern (5-2, 14-8).
Junior Kavitha Tipirneni has been sidelined for a majority of the dual-match season with a fractured left arm. Senior Jen Duprez sprained her ankle during Saturday’s match and won’t be able to practice until Friday. The other senior, Joanne Musgrove, has been feeling intense pain in her shoulder for the past two weeks and is not slated to practice until the end of the week. Junior Chrissie Nolan almost collapsed with severe arm and leg cramps after Sunday’s match, and her status is uncertain.
Ritt admitted that this year’s team has faced more adversity and injury than any other team she has ever coached in 19 years, but said this may not be such a bad thing.
“This is a very tough team psychologically and emotionally. I think that’s one of the reasons why we have been able to overcome adversity,” Ritt said. “Everyone at some point in the season has stepped up and made a significant contribution.”
Filling in for injured Duprez and Musgrove, freshman Debra Streifler has not lost a doubles or singles match in the past four matches.
“Debra is good under pressure, and she always finds a way for us,” Ritt said.
Michigan No. 1 singles player Michelle DaCosta has also helped relieve the weight of injury, not dropping a set in her past four contests and winning seven of her last eight matches.
DaCosta’s doubles partner, Leanne Rutherford, is playing some of the best tennis of her career. She has won 18 of her past 21 matches and leads the team in most statistical categories. Rutherford was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week in late March for her accomplishments.
Despite all the injuries, Ritt feels this team is as confident as ever.
“Our morale is high. Things haven’t gone our way, but (the team) has accepted it and has been doing the best they can, given the situation,” Ritt said. “We have been able to win a lot of matches with that mindset.”
And with only two matches remaining for the Wolverines before the Big Ten Championships, they will need to heal quickly.
On Saturday, the Wolverines will play Ritt’s alma-mater Wisconsin before taking on Northwestern on Sunday.
With a sweep this weekend, and a little help, Michigan could snag a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
“Our goals haven’t changed,” Ritt said. “We haven’t given up and looked to next year – we look to next practice. We have high expectations for the rest of the season.”