Teams with younger players are normally looked at as weak, an opportunity for a more experienced team to get an easy win. Out of the seven players on the Michigan women’s tennis team, four are freshmen, yet being “weak” doesn’t come remotely close to defining them.
“Our class is very strong, and we are very competitive,” said freshman Kristen Dodge. “I think we have a really good foursome of us. It’s difficult having a young team, but I think we have all stepped up in leadership roles, doing a pretty good job in that aspect of things.”
With the help of its freshmen, No. 14 Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 12-5 overall) defeated Purdue on Saturday, 5-2. The two rookies in singles positions won their matches. No. 1 singles freshman Emina Bektas had the first winning singles point, prevailing, 6-3, 6-3, and No. 3 singles freshman Sarah Lee won a difficult match, winning the last singles point, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
For the fourth time this season and the second time in three matches, the Wolverines also won all three doubles matches on Saturday.
Sunday was a wake-up call for the team. The Wolverines narrowly won, 4-3, but again the freshmen showed their skill and made sure the team stayed undefeated. Dodge came through when it was needed most — she lost the first set 0-6, then came back to win the following two sets, 6-4, 6-3, to earn the much-needed last point, giving Michigan the 4-3 win over the Hoosiers.
“Kristy clinched it,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “She just hung in there, she did well, and she competed every point because the girl was really controlling her early. (Dodge) just started putting out more balls in play and hung around and got it into a third set. Without that match, obviously the outcome would have been a lot different.”
Lee also played well against the Hoosiers on Sunday, getting the early point and beating her opponent, 7-5, 6-2.
“Knowing that half the team was going to be freshmen, coming in to the year I knew I had to step it up,” Lee said. “Today was a really good example of that because I wasn’t doing too great. But I had to figure it out, stay out there as long as possible and do it for my teammates. Stay out as long as I could for my teammates, because that is all I could really do. I ended up figuring it out, playing well and winning.”
It’s a little surprising that a squad dominated by freshmen has performed so well — the Wolverines are the highest-ranked Big Ten team. But this road trip served as a reminder that these still are first-year players.
“This weekend was our first bus ride down, and that was a new experience for me, being a freshman,” Dodge said. “It’s always nice to win at home, but it’s nice to win at matches that are away. It’s a good feeling.”
These freshmen have already proven themselves forces to be reckoned with, and they seem to promise even better things once they mature as players. But for now, Bernstein is focusing her team on next weekend against Illinois and Northwestern at home, which could make or break Michigan’s current record.
“Walking out with two wins was what our goal was, but definitely a wake up call,” Bernstein said. “We were fortunate to get through today for sure, which I guess is a good sign that we fought through it, but we have got to get a lot better before next weekend.”