The last, and only, time the Michigan women’s tennis team won the Big Ten, senior Tania Mahtani was preparing to graduate elementary school. Thirteen years later, she’s getting ready to graduate college, and the Wolverines are once again Big Ten champions.
Mahtani — who has been part of more team wins than any other player in the program’s history — helped No. 4 Michigan (10-0, 20-3) remain undefeated in conference play with its weekend sweep of No. 21 Illinois and No. 43 Indiana. The team finished the regular season on a 14-match winning streak.
Both victories saw the Wolverines winning the doubles portion, earning the important first point of the day. The team then continued to top the Illini in four of six singles matches on Saturday and five of six on Sunday versus the Hoosiers.
Michigan won the doubles point in every Big Ten match this season, sweeping the three doubles matches eight out of 10 times.
“We feel so good in doubles,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “Going into singles with a 1-0 lead, knowing that you only need three points, is a big difference.”
It was obvious the entire weekend that the Wolverines have continued to use their home-court to their advantage.
“The crowd was amazing and we really felt them,” Bernstein said. “We like being home, we like sleeping in our own beds, and we like playing in front of our fans. We’re just comfortable here.”
The players attribute a lot of their success to their chemistry and camaraderie, which was evident with a weekend full of high-fives and smiles.
And it’s been all smiles for juniors Whitney Taney and Rika Tatsuno, who have won 12 straight doubles matches. The duo is now the 31st-ranked doubles team in the country.
“Rika and I have been playing together since freshman year, so we know each other very well,” Taney said. “On the doubles court, we just know where each other are moving, and what we need to do. We get along so well, we’re like best friends.”
Even though Taney holds the title of team captain, she knows this weekend was about the team’s lone senior — Mahtani.
Honored on Senior Day before Sunday’s match, Mahtani’s teammates couldn’t say enough about how much she means to the team.
“I love Tania to death,” Taney said. “She’s been such a big part of the team, and we’re going to miss her dearly.”
Junior Denise Muresan added: “(Tania) means a lot to the team. Everybody on the team is very close and we’re all best friends, so we’re definitely going to miss her.”
Mahtani will leave Michigan as one of the program’s most accomplished tennis players ever, having played a major role in putting the program on the map.
“We’ve made a huge jump, from her freshman year as a top-20 team to this year being in the top 10, top five even,” Bernstein said. “It’s just what she represents. She’s always doing the right thing, a very hard worker, and she’s our quiet leader; she leads by example.”
Mahtani — or “Poodle,” a nickname referring to how she moves on the court — takes great pride in her effort and determination, and hopes that her legacy is one that teammates and future Wolverines will aspire to emulate.
“I want to leave here feeling like I contributed everything to every match, and that I was someone my teammates could count on, and just be a big impact on the program,” Mahtani said. “I hope I’ve done that and will continue to do that for the rest of the year.”
With the Big Ten title now safely secured, the Wolverines will look to continue their success in the postseason.
The team will travel to Iowa City on Wednesday for the four-day Big Ten Championships. They’ll then have 12 days off to prepare for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Bernstein said. “We’re very excited, but we still know that we have a lot of work to do. We want to continue with our confidence and continue playing well in order to really make a mark, because we believe that we can.”