—-The Michigan women’s tennis team coasted by Maryland, 6-1, on Saturday in their neutral-site match in Columbia, S.C. The win improved the Wolverines record to 3-3 and helped salvage a disappointing weekend. Having been upset by South Carolina, 4-3, on Friday, the No. 21 Wolverines needed to shake off the loss and get back on the winning track.

Despite getting the victory over Maryland, Michigan’s play was far from impressive. Four of its five singles players needed three sets to beat an overmatched Maryland squad.

Michigan senior co-captain Michelle DaCosta got off to a slow start and dropped the first set to junior Ramona. But DaCosta came back to win, 1-6, 6-4, 7-5, at No. 1 singles. Sophomore Elizabeth Exon, senior co-captain Leanne Rutherford and junior Nina Yaftali also were pushed to the limits in their wins at No. 2, 4 and 5 singles, respectively. Sophomore Kara Delicata took a straight-set singles victory, and, earlier, the Wolverines took the team doubles point.

After a good start Friday, things didn’t go as smoothly on Saturday. The Wolverines swept all three doubles matches to earn the team point, and then DaCosta stormed past South Carolina’s Christyn Lucas, 6-2, 6-1, to give Michigan a 2-0 lead.

But South Carolina fought back and the lead vanished. Exon, Delicata and Rutherford fell at No. 2, 3 and 4 singles respectively, and South Carolina had a 3-2 lead that left Michigan clinging to life.

The match rested on the racket of Yaftali and the outcome of the No. 5 singles match. South Carolina’s Fallon Koon took the first set, 6-4.

Yaftali fought back to take the second set but found herself in a seemingly insurmountable hole — down 5-1 in the final set. Reaching for all she had left, Yaftali came back to win the third set in a tiebreaker and even the dual match, 3-3.

The match hinged on freshman Allie Shafner at No. 6 singles. Shafner fought hard to force a third set, but she ultimately fell to Maryland’s Justine Walsh, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.

“We have a tough nonconference schedule,” Delicata said. “We are playing a lot of quality teams so we expect the matches to be close. We just have to focus on getting the job done every match.”

Michigan’s tough loss to South Carolina and lackluster win over Maryland typify an early season trend: inconsistent play on the road. Earlier in the year, Michigan went on the road to South Bend and got pummeled, 7-0. Michigan knows it will have to improve away from home if it is to be competitive in the Big Ten and nationally this year.

While technically a neutral-site match and not a road match, Michigan can take its win over Maryland as the first step to better results away from Ann Arbor.

“The key (to winning on the road) is to take the double point early,” Delicata said. “Then, we need to use that momentum and hang in the tough individual battles.”

Two bright spots for the Wolverines during the weekend were the play of DaCosta and Exon. DaCosta won her singles and doubles matches against both teams, while Exon recorded her first singles victory in dual match play in 2005.

The Wolverines will look to step up their road play as they head to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers on Feb. 13.



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