Sometimes it takes a setback to get the best out of a person. In sports, an athlete can learn a lot about herself and how much she cares about playing when things don’t go her way. For Debra Streifler, a junior on the Michigan women’s tennis team, early season disappointment has served as motivation for recent success.
Streifler started the year slowly, going 2-4 in singles play. After a loss at No. 21 Notre Dame, Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt decided to make a change. Streifler was out of the No. 6 singles slot, and freshman Allie Shafner was in.
“At that point, it was early in the season, and we have a lot of people on this team who can contribute,” Ritt said. “We decided that Allie deserved the opportunity to compete. It wasn’t just a reflection on Debra’s performance.”
Along with the mediocre record, Ritt saw a decline in Streifler’s on-court intensity, which was another factor in the early-season switch.
“Debra is a great competitor,” Ritt said. “But against Notre Dame, she wasn’t her normal, competitive and feisty self.”
Streifler was more candid about the situation.
“Allie had been playing well, and I had been struggling,” Streifler said.
A dejected Streifler sat and watched as the team played on without her in the lineup.
“I was really upset,” Streifler said. “I felt like I had blown my chance.”
Streifler had reached a crossroads in her season. She knew she had two choices. She could give up and continue to watch her teammates play without her or fight her way back into action. She chose to fight.
“I used the time off as motivation,” Streifler said. “I focused on working hard in every practice and match to do my best and play again.”
Her hard work did not go unnoticed.
“Debra worked extremely hard when she was out of the lineup,” Ritt said. “She is very competitive. She is a fighter, and she showed how much she wanted to get back in the lineup and play.”
With Streifler picking up her intensity and Shafner not fairing much better in the lineup (1-2), Ritt decided to swap the two players again.
Streifler has taken advantage of her second opportunity. She is 3-0 since being placed back into the lineup, notching impressive wins over Liis Sober from No. 6 Kentucky and Sisse Nielsen of No. 25 San Diego State.
“Sometimes when players aren’t in the lineup, it changes their perception,” Ritt said. “It gives them an opportunity to sit back and think about their game, goals and what they are willing to do to improve.”
Streifler admits that the time off has given her a new outlook on tennis. So far her new attitude has paid off.
“I had to change how I thought on the court,” Streifler said. “(The time off) makes me work hard during every point to stay in the lineup. It is not fun sitting on the bench.”
The Wolverines have definitely appreciated her resurgence in the lineup, which may be one of the keys to improving on a sub-par season.
“Debra has come back and performed very well for us,” Ritt said. “She has given us a good lift at No. 6 (singles).”
Streifler looks to make it four wins in a row when Michigan hosts Western Michigan on March 16.