The last time the Michigan men”s tennis team didn”t have a senior was 1996-1997. That was also the last losing season for the Wolverines.
With the Big Ten schedule around the corner, the undefeated Wolverines are still looking to answer a question that has been asked ever since last year: Will this team be able to survive without senior leadership?
Junior co-captains Henry Beam and Greg Novak are expected to lead in principle, but there has yet to emerge a clear-cut emotional or on-the-court leader.
“It”s not a situation where someone has stepped up and taken charge, so it”s still up for debate,” Michigan coach Mark Mees said.
It hasn”t seemed to affect the Wolverines” play, though. Undefeated in dual-match play at 4-0, Michigan has shown the mental toughness to win the close matches, and has displayed the talent and depth needed to put away teams when needed.
“I think we”re playing better doubles at this point than last year,” Mees said. “We have an opportunity to win against anybody right now.”
Michigan hopes Saturday will be no different, as it hosts Ball State. It has been five years since these two teams have met, and although the Wolverines have never lost to the Cardinals, Mees expects a tough match.
“Ball State is very good. Year in and year out they”ve got a hardworking bunch of guys,” Mees said. “They”ve got great doubles, and they”re real solid from Nos. 1-6.”
The grind of the season hasn”t yet resulted in major injuries for any Wolverines. Sohpomore Chris Rolf has been sidelined with a recurring elbow problem for two weeks, but has started to practice again and hopes to be ready for the Big Ten opener Wednesday at Northwestern.
It will be the first road match for the 29th-ranked Wolverines, and getting off to a good start in conference play will be key.
“The Big Ten is very good, with lots of depth, and rankings don”t mean anything,” Mees said. “You”re going to have to win some matches on the road.”
Historically, the Wolverines have played very well in the friendly confines of the Varsity Tennis Center, posting a 28-8 record overall. But in that senior-less 1996-1997 season, Michigan struggled on the road, going 3-9.
This year”s young Wolverines will have to learn how to win on the road quickly, because the road is where teams really need leadership.
Leadership isn”t appointed, it”s taken. And that is what Michigan is counting on.