Freshman Kate Fahey nailed two backhands cross court before hitting a forehand approach shot that pushed her opponent, Jessie Aney, beyond the baseline. The North Carolina freshman couldn’t control her next shot, sending the ball long.
Prior to the ball landing, Fahey looked to her left toward her teammates, extended her arms, and belted the words “Come on!” as loud as her lungs would let her. Just as she could scream no longer, six of her teammates all surrounded her to celebrate her win. And this was all before Fahey and Aney, who are close friends from the junior circuit, could even shake hands.
That could seem rude, but it’s not: It’s just the identity of the Michigan women’s tennis team.
The eighth-ranked Wolverines will cheer louder than any of their opponents — no questions asked. It’s what coach Ronni Bernstein demands, even when Michigan’s opponents don’t come anywhere close to matching her team’s intensity.
“We’ll have teams come in here and we’ll say ‘Wow, it’s so dead in here,’ ” Bernstein said. “I think all of our girls have that. It’s hard when the other teams don’t have it, but when you’re playing North Carolina, you definitely need it.”
That was the case on Saturday when the Wolverines dethroned No. 2 North Carolina, 5-2.
Added Fahey: “Honestly, since I’ve been here, between every team I’ve seen, we’re the loudest, definitely, and it helps. It throws (opponents) off.”
For most of the match, Fahey looked in control. She had played Aney countless times in juniors, yet had never beaten her. Aney has a style that would make any player cringe, including Fahey. The Tar Heel won’t beat you with power, but instead plays like a brick wall. And to make matters trickier, she slices nearly every backhand she takes.
This match was different, though. Prior to the match, Bernstein told Fahey that she needed to be more aggressive and get into the net — that was her only chance. She listened and executed, remaining in control nearly the entire match.
Her one blip, though, seemed significant. She had a match-point opportunity as she was up 5-3 in the second set, and found herself coming into the net. All she needed to do was smash a routine overhead, and her and Michigan’s match would be sealed. As she was gearing up for the shot, her teammates, who were watching from no more than 15 feet away, started to run toward Fahey, anticipating the victory.
But the ball went wide and her teammates awkwardly walked back to where they were before.
Fahey could’ve dwelled at the missed opportunity. But her teammates’ cheers swallowed out any of the crowd’s gasps, as well as her internal emotions.
That’s Michigan women’s tennis.
“You could see Kate there, and she felt everybody in the crowd,” Bernstein said. “It’s a different dynamic.”
It’s that dynamic that Bernstein pines for. Not only does it help her team run opponents out of the building like it did on Saturday, but it’s also one of her key recruiting tools.
Three weeks ago, Bernstein hosted a blue-chip recruit for her team’s match against Ohio State. She knew the Varsity Tennis Center would be electric. And it was, despite the Wolverines falling, 4-2.
Still, Bernstein knows the recruit saw how a Ronni Bernstein team functions. She saw how every player screams “Go Blue!” after every point — yes, every point. And she saw how tennis could transition from being an individual to team sport.
“Any time (a recruit) comes to Ann Arbor, they see how the fans support our programs, and they want to be a part of it,” Bernstein said. “If they can get past the weather … then we are in the mix with any recruit.”
And if they ever make that decision to come to Ann Arbor, they’ll know one thing: It’s all about the team.
Because that’s Michigan women’s tennis.
Rubinstein can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jrubinstein4.