Michigan women’s tennis player Leanne Rutherford and Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant have something in common – but you probably didn’t know that.
There’s been so much attention on Bryant’s recent scoring streak of 40-plus points in consecutive games that lost in the craziness has been the brilliant play of Rutherford. She had a 10-match win streak of her own at No. 4 singles going into last weekend’s contest against No. 1 ranked Duke. And just like Bryant’s, Rutherford’s streak ended, but was nonetheless impressive.
During her streak, Rutherford had been the difference-maker for Michigan, pulling out tight victories in crunch-time against DePaul (7-5, 7-6), then No. 11 Kentucky (6-3, 1-6, 6-3) and Penn State (7-6, 7-5) – all 4-3 team victories for the Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 5-3 Overall).
Despite all of these close matches during her winning streak, Rutherford stayed calm due to her on-court confidence.
“I wouldn’t say that I’ve had more pressure on myself just because of a winning streak,” Rutherford said. “It gives you a little bit extra incentive to win those matches.”
But pressure only seems to motivate Rutherford on the court. In her past 11 matches, five have labored into the third set, but she has won each of them.
Rutherford credits much of her late game heroics to the amount of time she spends on the court.
“I know I’m not going to get tired,” she said. “I’ve played so many third sets that I’ve kind of gotten used to them.”
Her long matches have caught the attention of her teammates.
“They always give me a hard time because I’m always playing a third set,” she said jokingly. “It seems like I’m always the last one playing on the court.”
The ease of taking matches the distance stems from her high school days.
Rutherford attended the National Sport School in Calgary, where all of the students are athletes and days are split evenly between sports and academics.
“We were always traveling,” said Rutherford about her high school experience. “I always had to send e-mails (to school) and bring my laptop on the road.”
This unique high school has prepared her for the rigorous traveling schedule of collegiate tennis and has helped her play consistent tennis away from home this season.
During Michigan’s recent six-match road trip, Rutherford won five of her six singles matches.
And even though the road has been so comfortable for Rutherford, returning home might not be such a bad thing for her team. Michigan has an eight-game home winning streak at the Varsity Tennis Center, matching its all-time mark set back in the facility’s inaugural 1996-97 season.
So after 39 days away from home, the Wolverines will host the Ball State Cardinals (1-1 MAC, 6-4) on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Michigan has never played the unranked Cardinals and isn’t ready to check them off as an easy victory.
“We came into this year with quite a bit of confidence,” Rutherford said. We’re an older team now, and we know what we’re capable of. Just because their not top-ranked doesn’t mean they’re not good.”
I’m pretty sure that Kobe Bryant guy has a similar philosophy.