A little home cooking cannot come soon enough for the struggling men’s tennis team.
Michigan (0-4 Big Ten, 5-9 overall) is currently in the midst of a three-match road swing and will return home on Saturday to face Indiana at the Varsity Tennis Center.
“It’s kind of nice to catch your breath and play at home,” assistant coach Dan Goldberg said.
But before they return to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have a little date today in East Lansing with Michigan State. Michigan will attempt to snap a five-match losing streak today against the Spartans, its in-state rival.
“Anytime you play them is fun,” said coach Mark Mees. “We’re just looking to win a match. Yeah, you get into the rivalry, but you feel that sense of rivalry with all Big Ten schools.”
The importance of winning a match has been stressed heavily lately, as the Wolverines have not picked up a dual-match victory since prevailing over Butler on February 22.
During the course of the losing skid, the team has been outscored by a margin of 28-7.
“The players have done a pretty good job of shaking it off and moving on,” said Goldberg. “It’s frustrating sometimes when the effort doesn’t pay off with wins.”
The team’s coaching staff believes its squad works as hard as any team in the Big Ten.
According to Goldberg, however, Michigan’s mental toughness is the team’s biggest work-in-progress.
“A lot of the improvements we’ve had to make have been mental – being a little bit tougher and a little bit more savvy in the clutch,” Goldberg said.
Last Sunday’s loss to Iowa exemplifies the coach’s concern perfectly. The Wolverines fell 4-3 in a very tight match that could easily have gone either way.
“One of the things we’ve been working on is being able to sustain our level of tennis for the entire three to three-and-a-half hour match,” Goldberg said. “(Iowa was) just a little bit better coming up with shots in the clutch.”
According to the coach, the tricky thing about mental toughness is that it cannot be completely taught – instead, some of it has to be learned through experience.
The Wolverines have had some matches in which they have stepped up in this regard, especially against Tulsa and Ball State earlier in the season. When it comes to Big Ten competition, however, Michigan has to improve its toughness.
“It’s a two-way street,” Goldberg said. “(The mental game) has to be incorporated and integrated into a playing situation … a lot of these matches are up for grabs.”
In an effort to improve the team’s flagging doubles play, Mees mixed up the doubles pairings last weekend, placing senior Chris Shaya and junior Anthony Jackson together at the No. 2 slot. Sophomores Vinny Gossain and David Anving now comprise the No. 3 doubles team for the Wolverines.
The switch was effective last weekend. Even though Michigan lost the doubles point against Minnesota on Friday, Gossain and Anving were victorious, and the other two matches were very tight. On Sunday against the Hawkeyes, the Wolverines snagged the doubles point by winning two of the three matches.
“We will probably stick with (the new teams) for a little and see what happens,” Mees said.
Armed with new doubles pairings, Michigan will look to get back on track today against the Spartans.
“This is Michigan State’s strongest team in the last 10 years,” Goldberg said. “I’m sure they are going in with a fair amount of confidence. It’s gonna come down to which team is mentally tough and sticks in there the longest.”