Senior co-captain Michelle DaCosta saved her best for last in last night’s women’s tennis match against Michigan State.
On match point during the No. 1 singles match, Michigan State’s Keri Thompson stung a forehand to the corner of the court. DaCosta tracked the shot down, but her lob attempt was short, and Thompson took advantage by stepping up and smashing an overhead to the opposite corner. DaCosta sprinted across the court and stretched out to return the slam. With DaCosta’s momentum carrying her off the court, Thompson tried to seal the point with a drop volley. Again, DaCosta got on her horse and tracked down the ball. But this time, she did more than merely get to the ball. She hit a brilliant lob on the run that bounced just inside the baseline. Thompson was able to run the shot down, but with all her momentum going backwards the best she could do was throw up a weak lob. DaCosta pounced on the ball and hit a forceful overhead slam to finish the marathon point, win the match and seal the victory for Michigan.
“Michelle played very well,” Michigan coach Bitsy Ritt said. “Some of the things she did today were just awesome.”
Along with the dramatic match point, DaCosta displayed her entire repertoire throughout the match, as she used a barrage of monster serves and clever play to win the first set, 6-4. DaCosta kept unloading bombs as she racked up ace after ace. Leading 4-3 in the second set, DaCosta followed a series of deep ground strokes with a well-placed drop shot to break Thompson’s serve and set up her victory.
DaCosta’s play paced Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 6-6 overall) to a hard-fought 6-1 victory over in-state rival Michigan State (0-1, 10-3) in front of the largest crowd the Varsity Tennis Center has seen this year. The Spartans came to Ann Arbor riding a 10-match winning streak, but the Wolverines jumped on them early, sweeping the doubles matches and winning the first set in all six singles matches. With the win, the Wolverines extended their winning streak to three.
“We started off strong,” Ritt said. “They put up a good fight, but we kept our composure and stuck with our strategy.”
The large crowd contributed to the unique atmosphere of the match. Before the matches started, “The Victors” and “Let’s Go Blue” were played from the speakers on the viewing level. In between points shouts of “Go Blue” were heard, and they were often followed by retaliatory chants of “Go White” or “Go State”. The players and coaches had an extra notch of intensity, trying to spur their team on. Ritt showed her emotion as she emphatically clapped for her players while she raced from court to court to see all the action and give words of advice.
“The rivalry is important,” Ritt said. “We try to treat every match the same in terms of importance and preparation, but, at the end of the day, it is always nice to be able to say we beat the Spartans.”
Junior Debra Streifler was first off the courts in singles play, as she steamrolled Michigan State’s Jessica Baron, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 5 singles. Michigan’s other senior co-captain, Leanne Rutherford, rallied from a 4-0 second-set deficit to win the No. 4 singles match, 6-2, 6-4, to give Michigan its third team point of the day.
With the overall match already decided, junior Nina Yaftali took the No. 6 singles match in a third set tiebreaker for Michigan while Wolverine sophomore Elizabeth Exon used a run of five straight games to win at No. 2 singles.
Earlier in the day, Exon and Streifler teamed up to dominate the No. 3 doubles match, winning 8-0. Rutherford combined with freshman Allie Shafner to win the No. 2 doubles match 8-1, while DaCosta and sophomore Kara Delicata ran off the last five games of the No. 1 doubles match to win 8-3.
Michigan will be on the road this weekend where it will face No. 2 Northwestern on March 26 and Wisconsin on March 27.