The Michigan men’s tennis team lost just seven matches last season.
This past Sunday, with 12 losses under their belt, the Wolverines finally grabbed their first Big Ten win by narrowly edging Northwestern 4-3.
That’s why Michigan coach Bruce Berque said his team needs to consider this weekend’s matches must-wins.
No. 47 Michigan (1-3 Big Ten, 7-12 overall) squares off against No. 51 Penn State and No. 5 Ohio State at the Varsity Tennis Center, returning home for the first time since dropping a 6-1 decision to then-No. 23 Wake Forest on Mar. 7.
“We feel more relaxed at home, and there is a little better atmosphere playing indoors in front of the home crowd,” senior co-captain Peter Aarts said.
The win over Northwestern halted an eight-match skid, dating back to the Wolverines’ home victory against Harvard on Feb. 20.
But Berque isn’t concerned as his team faces the Nittany Lions (2-2, 9-8) and Buckeyes (4-0, 20-1).
“We certainly don’t have much room to play around,” Berque said. “With Penn State, we’re going to get the guys to play with a sense of urgency as if their season is on the line.”
That’s exactly what has to happen this weekend for Michigan to have any shot at making it to the NCAA Tournament in May. Last year, just six of 64 teams made the tournament with a losing record. With the Wolverines’ next few matches on the road, this weekend is a perfect opportunity to grab a split.
“The rankings are so far from any indication of what kind of match we are going to get,” Berque said. “Anyone from 15 to 50 can beat each other on any given day and usually the match is 4-3, so if you’re not ready to play, it’s getting to be more and more like college basketball, where the parity is really there and the little things make a difference.”
Berque stresses playing aggressive tennis while minimizing the amount of unforced errors.
After the Wolverines’ recent victory, their recent confidence issues have dissipated.
“Everyone is a little more upbeat and relaxed now,” Aarts said. “You use a whole bunch of matches in a row and everyone gets uptight with themselves and the team. When you win, it relaxes everyone a little bit.”
Despite their relaxed mindset, the importance of this weekend cannot be overlooked.
“With (Ohio State) being so good this year … it’s going to be something that will be easy to get up for,” Berque said. “But we have talked almost exclusively about what we need to do on Saturday (against Penn State) and that’s the attitude we want to take.”