After the match, Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein couldn’t help but be pleased.
The No. 5 Michigan women’s tennis team routed South Florida, 7-0, at the Varsity Tennis Center on Friday. The Wolverines’ fourth shutout of the season was a welcome reprieve given the team’s recent road struggles in Florida and North Carolina.
“Everybody really stepped up today,” she said after the match. “It’s probably the best match we’ve played as a team.”
Senior Whitney Taney became the first Wolverine to earn her 100th career doubles win as she and senior Rika Tatsuno clinched the doubles point in an 8-4 contest. Taney’s two-set victory at No. 4 singles also clinched the match overall for Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 11-3 overall).
Taney said that the team worked on building “positive energy” in practice last week, with emphasis on supporting each other on the court and on the sidelines.
“I think we came out and reacted really well (to last week’s loss against UNC),” she said. “We just talked about little improvements we can make on the court. Everybody brought it today. It felt good.”
The Wolverines never trailed the Bulls (5-10 overall) in the doubles sets. All three teams built early leads, and South Florida’s attempts to mount late comebacks were stifled by Michigan’s unrelenting physical presence. The Wolverines smashed several balls onto their opponents’ courts so hard that they had to be retrieved by fans on the second floor seating.
Most of the singles matches ended in undramatic fashion. Tatsuno, at No. 5 singles, and sophomore Mimi Nguyen, at No. 6 singles, each played a perfect first set. They combined to concede only four games to their opponents.
Freshman Sam Critser, coming off a series of losses, struggled early at the No. 3 position. She held serve for much of the first set, but several misplaced shots shook her poise and gave her opponent enough momentum to win it 6-3.
Critser’s frustration was evident when she slammed a loose ball into the tarp behind her after a shot went out of bounds.
“I just wasn’t hitting the ball like I usually do,” she said. “Usually I’m a little more aggressive. I’ve been coming off a couple losses, so I just wasn’t feeling very confident.”
But the positive energy the team had rehearsed in practice emerged during the second set. Critser won it, 6-4, and then took the ensuing 10-point set to prevail.
The last set wasn’t even close, as Critser doubled her opponent’s score, 10-5.
“Someone was like, ‘Sam, play your game, play like you usually can,’ ” Critser said. “And I just started hitting the ball more (confidently).”
The Wolverines resume Big Ten play next weekend with a pair of games against Indiana and Purdue. Michigan is in a six-way tie for first place in conference standings, so the race is currently wide open. The match against South Florida was the last non-conference game of the regular season.
Bernstein wants the momentum from the win to propel the team into the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
“I feel like the girls feel really good about where we are,” Bernstein said. “We’ll go back to work this week and work on a few things. We’re excited. Our goal is to win (the Big Ten championship) again. We have a shot, but we’re going to go one step at a time. There are some good teams in the Big Ten, so we definitely can’t look ahead.”