EAST LANSING – If there was ever a doubt whether the Michigan and Michigan State women’s tennis teams were equal, those doubts were put to rest last night.
In a match that lasted more than four and a half hours, Michigan (1-4 Big Ten, 7-7 overall) dropped a heavily contested contest, 4-3, at the Michigan State University Tennis Facility.
The match was tied 3-3 as the No. 1 singles match between Michigan sophomore Kavitha Tipirneni and Michigan State’s Dora Vastag went into a third set. Vastag won the first set 7-6, but Tipirneni fought back and won the second 7-5, leading most of the way. The third set was back and forth the entire way, often with several rallies lasting more than a minute. In the end, Vastag had more energy and stamina, pulling out the 6-3 victory to secure the meet for Michigan State (2-3, 10-7).
“Hats off to State,” Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt said of the loss, her first to Michigan State in 14 seasons. “They stepped it up and played well when it counted. They outplayed us in the close matches.”
The Spartans kept pace with the Wolverines throughout the meet. What led up to this final showdown of No. 1 players was a dramatic comeback at No. 4 singles and two other matches that went to three sets.
Sophomore Kim Plaushines, in her second singles match since January, blew by her opponent 6-3, 6-1. Plaushines returned to action as a result of junior Jen Duprez sitting out the match due to a hip injury.
Another Wolverine seeing more playing time as a result of Duprez’s injury was senior Jen Vaughn, who played in her second match of the season. Vaughn has been plagued with a hip injury for most of the season, but she got her chance when paired with Plaushines at No. 2 doubles. Their match was called while being down 6-5 in the interest of time, as Michigan had already sealed the doubles point with two victories. Nevertheless, Vaughn was happy to be back in action.
“It’s really exciting and makes me feel like the hard work has paid off,” Vaughn said. “It was hard to think that I would get to this point, because it was going on for so long.
“On the other hand, I’m disappointed that the reason I can play is because of Jen (Duprez’s) injury. It’s an interesting situation.”
The other match that gained the attention of the crowd was freshman Leanne Rutherford’s No. 4 singles match against the Spartans’ Mandy Caldemeyer. Rutherford was facing defeat in the first set, down 5-3. But faced with adversity, she began to pick up her game. Carefully selecting her shots and dictating play, Rutherford won the next four games on the way to a 7-5 victory.
After being worn out by Rutherford’s commanding play, Caldemeyer dropped the second set 6-1, putting Michigan ahead 3-2 in the match scoring.
“When I’m down, it always makes me more eager to fight back,” Rutherford said. “Winning the first set gave me momentum and helped me through my second set.”
The loss gives Michigan an even record heading into Sunday’s match against No. 2 Wake Forest, the highest-ranked opponent the Wolverines will face this season.