Even after Mississippi eliminated the Michigan men’s tennis team from last year’s NCAA Tournament, denying the Wolverines a Sweet 16 bid, it was obvious that the tone of the 2012 offseason would be positive. The Wolverines would be returning all of its players for the upcoming season, including a healthy redshirt sophomore Justin Rossi, who missed the entire 2012 spring campaign to injury.
While Michigan didn’t sign a single recruit, two transfers – junior Spencer Newman and sophomore Vlad Stefan – joined the Wolverines, making the off-season even sweeter.
Newman and Stefan found their ways to Michigan in very different ways. While Stefan was forced to leave Maryland after the Terrapins shut down their program, Newman made the decision to leave Florida by choice after his sophomore season – a season that saw him earn 32 singles victories and 31 doubles victories, both team-high numbers.
Throughout the 2012 season, Newman didn’t like what he saw in his fellow Gator teammates and once his coaches resigned he chose to transfer.
“Once he decided (to leave Florida), Michigan was one of the top choices for him right away because of the relationship he had with some of the players on our team and having (Michigan assistant coach) Mark Merklein as his coach in juniors,” said Michigan head coach Bruce Berque.
Newman, who finished 2012 ranked No. 65 in singles, said it would have been more of a gamble to stay at Florida than to come to Michigan.
“I think being at Michigan will be better for me in every aspect,” Newman said. “I think I’m getting an upgrade in the two most important things for me — that’s tennis and academics.”
Newman also won’t have to worry about fitting in when he gets to Ann Arbor. Through playing on the USTA junior tennis circuit, Newman already knows sophomore Alex Petrone and junior Shaun Bernstein, who answered many questions for Newman about the Wolverines during the transfer process. Newman even knows one of his soon-to-be teammates, junior Alex Buzzi, from middle school.
To make the situation even more comfortable for Newman, he was neighbors with Wolverine standout, senior Evan King, for three years in a dormitory in Boca Raton, Fla. that housed some of the top junior players in the country – some of whom, including Newman, were coached by Merklein.
“I’ve known (Merklein) since I was about 12 or 13, so that had a huge factor,” Newman said. “That was one of the initial things that made me look at Michigan and everything else just kind of convinced me. I really think that Michigan is going to be the place for me to achieve me professional goals.”
In Stefan’s case, Maryland shut down its tennis program following the 2012 spring season, forcing Stefan and his coaches to look for a new place to continue their collegiate tennis careers.
“Once Maryland cut their tennis team, (Stefan) started to look at schools that combined strong academics with strong tennis, and he and his coaches identified a handful of schools that would interest him,” Berque said. “His coach contacted me to start the process, and once we had interest, we went out and met him in person and watched him play and watched him practice.”
Stefan, a native of Bucharest, Romania, finished 2012 ranked No. 97 in singles at Maryland’s No. 2 position, notching 20 victories, which led the Terrapins. Stefan also finished 2012 with a 16-4 record at No. 2 doubles.
“I think (Stefan) is going to be a great addition,” Bernstein said. “He played really well in doubles last year, and he’s definitely going to come in and be an impact player right away.”
When Newman and Stefan join their Wolverine teammates shortly, they will be welcomed not just for their playing ability but also for their experience and motivation. As Berque and Bernstein stressed, both Stefan and Newman are determined players who will push their new teammates in practice every day.
The two transfers will also give the Wolverines depth that they haven’t had in years.
“By adding two more quality players, if someone is hurt or not playing at their best, we can now afford to put other guys in the lineup who are just as capable of getting us wins,” Bernstein said.
Newman and Stefan will have the fall season to adjust to Michigan tennis and to the Big Ten, as there are several Big Ten tournaments in the coming months. The newest Wolverines will also have chances to boost their ITA ranking before the start of the spring season.
But, most importantly, Newman and Stefan will have the chances to earn spots in both the singles and doubles lineup – a lineup that is looking to improve off last season’s successes and compete again for a Big Ten championship.
“They’ve already proven that they can play at the level that we can play at,” Berque said. “They’ve established themselves with a national ranking in Division I and they both have some very good wins. We expect them to have an impact on our lineup and create a more competitive environment in our practices.
“They will have opportunities to play in some pretty competitive tournaments, and what they do in the fall will impact where they stand in the lineup, but that’s the case with everybody on our team.”