It’s been a storybook season for the Michigan women’s tennis team this year, but after going undefeated in the Big Ten in the regular season, the Wolverines fell just a little short in the conference tournament.
No. 4 Michigan took its 14-match winning streak on the road to Iowa City to face off in the Big Ten Championships, and after ending Northwestern’s 11-year reign as conference champions, the Wolverines were awarded the number one seed for the tournament.
As the top seed, Michigan received a bye in the first round, where it faced Wisconsin in the quarterfinals, and walked away a 4-1 winner.
On Saturday, the Wolverines found themselves facing host team, Iowa, in the semifinals.
The Iowa match marked just the second time this season that Michigan lost the doubles point. And while going into singles down one point is certainly a disadvantage, the team viewed it as an opportunity to challenge themselves.
“We haven’t been in that position for a while,” Bernstein said. “We had our backs against the wall, so it was either we step up or we go home. It’s a learning experience; it’s good for us. We had some pressure on us and it was good to see that they could come through.”
But the Hawkeyes’ home-court advantage wasn’t enough to stop the surging Michigan squad.
“(Iowa) had a good crowd (Saturday),” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “But we’re going to have to win on the road if we want to do well in the postseason. So while it was tough, it was good to see that we can do it away from the Varsity Tennis Center, too.”
That win would be the end of the road for Michigan’s weekend. On Sunday, they ran into a Northwestern team that was hungry for revenge.
Earlier in the season, the Wolverines handed the Wildcats their first conference loss since 2006. It was clear that No. 5 Northwestern came to Iowa with a purpose.
The two teams had met in the tournament final in each of the past six seasons, and Northwestern was crowned tournament champions each of those years.
“We didn’t play our best and Northwestern played really well,” Bernstein said. “We’re disappointed, but we’re going to go back to the drawing board and will be ready to go in two weeks because we’ve had a great season, and we’re not ready to stop.”
Even with the disappointing loss in the finals, there are definite bright spots for the program this weekend. Bernstein was named the conference’s Coach of the Year, while junior Denise Muresan was named Player of the Year.
Along with Muresan, the team had two more players on the All-Big Ten team. Freshman phenom Mimi Nguyen — who was undefeated in singles during conference play — took home Freshman of the Year honors, and junior captain Whitney Taney also made the distinguished team.
It was Taney’s second time on the prestigious list, but in her usual fashion, she immediately deflected all the glory to her team and teammates.
“Mimi and Denise deserve it 100 percent,” Taney said. “They’re so well deserving of the awards, and I’m just so proud of them. They’ve done so much to deserve it so it’s awesome for them and it’s awesome for the program. It just goes to show how well Michigan has done.”
The Wolverines’ fate is now out of their hands. The NCAA Tournament selection will take place on Tuesday, when Michigan — who will most likely remain a top-five team — will be hoping to host regional action for the tournament, which begins Friday, May 14.
“Our mentality is going to be to do what we do,” Taney said. “We know what Michigan can do and what Michigan’s game is, so we need to go out there and go for it and do it together as a team.”