For weeks, it has been the same story. The Michigan women’s tennis team has struggled in its non-conference schedule, but turned its season around for Big Ten opponents. And while the Wolverines picked up two more conference wins this weekend, the story finally changed.
It wasn’t just the big hitters and the higher-ranked players doing all the work this time — the rest of the lineup has finally caught up.
Michigan faced rival Ohio State on Friday and Penn State on Sunday, and while the matchup with the Buckeyes proved to be tougher than matches against the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines walked away with 4-3 and 7-0 victories, respectively.
For the past two seasons, every time Michigan has played Ohio State, it was considered a non-conference match. And for the past two seasons, the Wolverines lost to the Buckeyes, yet won the Big Ten. Some might say those Big Ten Championships don’t really count, but if the Wolverines were to go on and win the Big Ten this year, there wouldn’t be anything left to say.
“Last year they were clearly the better team,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “We struggled against them. Every year’s a new year and it was definitely good to go in there and pull that one out.
“… Every time we play Ohio State it’s a huge rivalry, and we were excited to get through.”
After dropping the doubles point and two of the first three singles matches off the court, Michigan was in a 3-1 hole. A three-set win from sophomore Chiara Lommer at No. 3 singles trimmed the deficit to one, but there was still plenty of work to be done.
Senior Mira Ruder-Hook and freshman Bella Lorenzini remained on court at No. 5 and No. 6 singles — if either lost, it would seal the match for Ohio State.
Ruder-Hook managed to claw out a 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 victory of her own, leaving the team’s fate in Lorenzini’s hands. Her match was tightly contested for its entirety, as she took the first set in a tiebreaker and was down 5-4 in the second set. As much as Mary Beth Hurley tried to force a third set and keep the Buckeyes alive, Lorenzini won three straight games to take the second set, 7-5, to give her team the victory.
When the Wolverines struggled early in the season, the pressure often fell on junior Kate Fahey at the top of the lineup. The team could typically rely on her to get a point, but couldn’t produce points down the rest of the lineup. But the opposite was true of both Friday and Sunday’s matches, where after Fahey dropped her match, Michigan’s other singles players came in clutch.
That came in play during Sunday’s match as well. Due to Penn State having just four courts, not all the singles matches were played at once. No. 3 through No. 6 went out first, and with four wins on four courts, the match was clinched before Fahey and the top of the lineup even got the chance to play.
“I think we’re getting more confidence as a group,” Bernstein said. “Three through six pulled through on Friday night and today we had three through six on to start the match. So I think everyone’s feeling confident and that’s what you want to do. As the season goes on, I mean we’re getting to April now, and you want to be playing with some confidence.
“We’ve definitely turned it around, which is good.”
The bottom of the lineup is finding its form just in time for the conference schedule to conclude and championship season to begin. With six straight wins and an unbeaten record in the Big Ten, Michigan’s early season woes seem to be a distant memory.