Following last week’s bitter defeat to Texas A&M, Michigan coach Amanda Augustus stressed how crucial a resurgent performance would be this weekend.
A win would help ease the recent pain the Michigan women’s tennis team has felt, coming off five straight losses, but a defeat would erode the Maize and Blue’s remaining confidence.
Augustus’s critique was spot on, as the Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 5-5 overall) were all smiles this weekend after a 5-2 win over Marquette and a 7-0 rout of Wisconsin at the Varsity Tennis Center.
“These wins give the team a lot of confidence heading into the Big Ten matches,” senior Kara Delicata said. “This is a long season, and the more matches you win, the more confident you feel.”
The team was anchored by strong performances across the board. And unlike previous weeks when the Wolverines were down, they were able to storm back to squelch the opposition this weekend.
After losing a disheartening first set filled with uncharacteristic mistakes at No. 1 singles, a frustrated Jenny Kuehn sat down with her coach to work out the mental bugs.
“(Augustus) screwed my head back on after the first set and told me what to do,” the graduate senior said. “She told me to just focus on the ball and stick to the simple things because everything else wasn’t working.”
The talk certainly helped as Kuehn returned to her normally fluid play, frustrating Wisconsin’s Kaylan Caiati with her agility and precise cross-court shots. The numerous unforced errors by Caiati simply made the result academic as Kuehn knotted things up.
When the players advanced to the tiebreaker, momentum was clearly in Kuehn’s favor. But, a determined effort by Caiati put the Varsity Tennis Center crowd on edge. Yet Kuehn once again overcame this challenge. She won the match 1-6, 6-2, 1-0 (11) with a hard cross-court shot that Caiati could only feebly hit into the net.
“It’s important that anybody on the team believes they can come back from every situation,” Delicata said. “She had confidence that she could come back, and she certainly proved that she could.”
All Wolverines notched wins, due in part to Augustus’s shuffling of the lineup. Senior Elizabeth Exon broke out of a recent slump, winning both matches by considerable margins (6-3, 7-5) and (6-1, 6-0) after being bumped to No. 5.
“For (Exon), it’s simply a matter of getting off to a good start,” Augustus said. “Once she gets rolling, she only gets better because she is such a competitor.”
For the first time this season, the Wolverines, who easily handled both the Badgers (0-5, 3-10) and Golden Eagles (6-10), won the doubles point. After falling behind 8-7 in a doubles match, freshman Tania Mahtani strung together a series of serves that baffled the Badgers to extend the action. Mahtani and her teammate Delicata defeated the Badgers in a tiebreak 9-8 (3).
Michigan showed vast volleying improvement over the previous weeks, something that Augustus has focused on in practice recently. She emphasizes how important it is to be comfortable with transition shots and keep cool in competitive situations.
“It’s important to seize all of your opportunities,” Augustus said. “Volleying makes us much more aggressive and allows us to take the match from the other team.”
The pair of wins will help Michigan break out of its recent slump, even though three of the five consecutive Wolverine losses came against top-10 teams. The recent experience will better prepare Michigan for tough competition later in the season. Nevertheless, the Wisconsin teams provided Michigan with a much-needed elixir to help them regain confidence.
“This was something that we really needed,” Augustus said. “I was confident that we were going to take care of business this weekend.”