On a team with few upperclassmen, the freshmen have to learn quickly and mesh with the other players. For the Michigan women’s tennis team, the freshmen have far surpassed expectations and have been a huge factor in the team’s success.
The Wolverines showed they are ready for Big Ten competition this week, with a 7-0 victory against Wisconsin on Saturday and a 6-1 victory over Minnesota on Sunday .
“(The freshmen) are a confident group and very experienced,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “They were some of the top-ranked recruits in the country, so we knew we had a really good class. They have been adjusting well to the team and are really about the team and not just individual results, so they have all contributed great.”
Freshman Emina Bektas is a prime example of the ideal recruit who has adjusted well to the college level. She is No. 1 singles, a part of No. 1 doubles and ranked No. 10 in the nation, and she has won 15 of her last 16 matches. Bektas won her singles match on Saturday 6-2, 7-6 (7), and was the first off the court on Sunday, 6-1, 6-1.
Freshmen Sarah Lee and Kristen Dodge have also proven themselves to be great acquisitions. Lee had a tough match on Sunday, coming back from an early deficit to win, 4-6, 6-2, 1-0 (6). Dodge played well in her return to the No. 6 position in the singles lineup on Saturday, 6-1, 6-2.
“One of the main things we are focusing on is being present as a team, and having everyone there and competing as best as they can,” Lee said. “Working as a team is really important for us right now.”
This freshman class, however, has not done it by themselves. As of this weekend, senior captain Michelle Sulahian has become one of the top 10 women’s tennis players in the history of the program, with 82 career wins as a Wolverine. She makes up the No. 3 doubles partnership with the only other upperclassman, junior Mimi Nguyen.
“(Sulahian and Nguyen) have done well for us,” Bernstein said. “They play a little bit different. You are going to see (sophomore) Brooke Bolender and Emina Bektas more powerful and aggressive, and Michelle and Mimi work the points a little more touch, stuff like that. It is definitely fun to watch, and they have done a good job for us.”
The sophomores, meanwhile, have been focusing on improvement. Sam Critser has been dealing with an injury this season, but she made her return to the singles lineup this weekend. She won against the Badgers, 6-3, 6-4, but was the lone loss against the Gophers, 6-7 (6), 6-2, 1-0 (8). Bolender won both her matches this past weekend and has been working on trusting herself.
“It is definitely a challenge, but I think the past couple of weeks I finally have seen what it looks like,” Bolender said. “Whether or not I do it for a whole match is a different story. It is exciting to see that I can do it, and I kind of like the challenge. I think that it has been helping me focus, and in the long run it will be better for my game.”
The wins this weekend bring the team to a 10-5 record this season. The Wolverines are now 3-0 in the Big Ten conference and have 28 consecutive Big Ten wins since the 2008-09 season. Bernstein is proud of her team’s success this weekend, but she knows that this is just the beginning of conference season.
“We want to be challenged — you do not want to win 7-0 and just breeze through people,” Bernstein said. “You want to be pushed, because that is what is going to make us better in the end. As the competition gets tougher, you need to be matched tough. Minnesota definitely pushed us today, but it’s good to see the girls pull through.”
Michigan has its next round of Big Ten matches this weekend in Bloomington. The Wolverines will play Purdue on Saturday and Indiana on Sunday.