After growing up in Westlake, Calif. and spending her freshman and sophomore years on the UCLA tennis team, it is surprising that recent transfer Nina Yaftali can easily handle Michigan winters.

“Surprisingly, it doesn’t bother me that much,” Yaftali said. “I just throw on a coat. Sometimes I even wear sandals in the snow.”

But playing for the No. 20 Michigan women’s tennis team has given Yaftali more challenging adjustments than bundling up before walking to class.

One of her obstacles came this winter. As a walk-on at UCLA, Yaftali played only on outdoor courts. But in Ann Arbor, the cold winters brought the game inside. Because play on indoor courts was faster and more aggressive, Yaftali had to develop aspects of the indoor game that she was able to ignore at UCLA. But a tenacious work ethic allowed her to adapt quickly.

Yaftali was already well prepared to play for a top-ranked collegiate tennis program. She came from a deep UCLA team that finished No. 2 last year. But she did not see an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the Bruins. The top six roster spots compete, but she did not hold a regular spot in the group. Yaftali told herself that if she did not make an impact on the squad her first two years, she would leave. After hearing that she was not going to play in the top six during her sophomore season, she started checking out other schools.

With family from Southfield and her former doubles partner in Ann Arbor, Michigan rose to the top of her choices. At 14, Nina’s doubles partner was current Michigan player Elizabeth Exon. Yaftali spoke with both Exon and head coach Bitsy Ritt while making her decision.

“The main reason was that I worked so hard for two years and I felt like I wasn’t getting the opportunities I deserved,” Yaftali said. “Too much of my life has been devoted to tennis for me to walk away.”

In Ann Arbor, Yaftali’s strong work ethic immediately paid off. At the start of the season, she claimed top honors at the Wolverine Invitational after winning four straight rounds to take the “Maize” flight singles bracket with a win over Eastern Michigan’s Laura Fernandez. Her success continued this past weekend in Michigan’s first dual match of the season, when Yaftali won both her singles and doubles matches.

After seeing her at UCLA, Ritt is excited to have Yaftali on the squad.

“I think she missed so many opportunities to compete while at UCLA that she has a great attitude and she wants to make the most of her opportunities at Michigan,” Ritt said. “We are thrilled to have her in the program because she adds a lot in terms of work ethic and attitude. She has a lot of enthusiasm, and she is a very good player that will help the team.”

After several strong matches Yaftali is settling in at Michigan and looking forward to the remainder of the season.

“I would definitely like to move up in the lineup, but the number one thing for me is the team,” Yaftali said. “I will play any position as long as we win.”

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