In the last match before the Big Ten season, the Michigan women”s tennis team completed a two game series against SEC foes, Tennessee and Kentucky, which culminated in a 5-2 loss yesterday against No. 16 Kentucky at the Varsity Tennis Center.
Similar to the match on Thursday which the Volunteers won 5-2 the Wolverines (3-3) looked poised to pull off the upset. But the SEC has not been kind to Michigan over the years, as the Wolverines have a combined 3-17 record against SEC schools.
This time, Michigan dropped all three doubles matches to Kentucky (8-1) in the early going. Each Kentucky doubles team is ranked nationally, and each breezed by the Wolverine squads, allowing Michigan to win just eight games among the three squads.
Despite the setback in doubles, the Wolverines” singles play looked sharp in the early going. Four of the six players for Michigan won the first set and had early leads in the second.
But the Wildcats demonstrated their experience by overcoming deficits in two of the matches.
Freshman Leanne Rutherford was one of Michigan”s four early leaders, yet she faced a particularly difficult challenge at No. 4 singles Kentucky”s Amy Trefethen, who is the No. 92 singles player in the nation. Rutherford struggled somewhat in the opening set, allowing Trefethen to win several games before she won 6-4. She went on to win the second set 6-3 to take the match.
“I was really determined to come out here and win,” Rutherford said of her first win at No. 4 singles this season. “After (the match against) Tennessee, I wanted to play better.”
Junior Jen Duprez was also committed to winning her match. Against Tennessee, Duprez dropped her No. 5 singles match 6-1, 6-2 and was out quickly. Not wanting a repeat performance, she came out against Kentucky looking aggressive from the baseline, winning in straight sets 6-3, 6-4.
“I was happy with how I played, since I didn”t feel that great about my game on Thursday,” Duprez said. “I felt I had to prove myself.”
Said Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt: “She did struggle on Thursday and that wasn”t a great matchup for her. But she came out and really stepped up. When her opponent made a run, she elevated her game in the second set.”
Michigan might have suffered its biggest loss at No. 1 singles, as sophomore Kavitha Tipirneni withdrew from her match with a back injury.
Midway into her second set, Kentucky”s Sarah Witten returned a volley high into the air, and Tipirneni chased it toward the baseline. As she looked over her shoulder, she pulled up lame, grabbing her lower back. After conferring with the medical staff, she retired from the match, giving Kentucky the default victory 6-4, 4-2. It”s unclear if she will be healthy enough to play this weekend.
“She”s probably not going to hit for a couple of days, but hopefully she”ll be able to practice this week,” Ritt said. “With treatment, she might be able to play this weekend.”
If she cannot play, Nolan will assume the role of No. 1 singles.
Michigan”s hopes were finally dashed when both freshman Michelle DaCosta and sophomore Chrissie Nolan lost their third sets at around the same time to give Kentucky the victory. Michigan was down 4-2 before their matches, and needed both to secure a win.
The loss comes at a critical point in the schedule for Michigan, as the team has played three top-20 teams in the past four matches, and it opens the Big Ten season against the top two finishers from 2001 Northwestern and Illinois. Although the Wolverines have dropped all three of their matches against top-20 teams, they have looked strong in each of those matches. Ritt is hopeful her team has improved after this tough stretch and adjusted to competing against quality opponents.
“This is a very difficult part of our schedule,” Ritt said. “We can”t get discouraged, we need to take positives from these matches. We”ve shown that we can give ourselves opportunities in each match.”