Chiara Lommer felt the weight of the world on her shoulders.
After dropping her first set 6-1, the fifth-year senior was down 5-3, 40-0 — one point away from Michigan’s season and her illustrious career as a Wolverine coming to a close.
Lommer would not go away, playing relentless defense to eek out two straight points to chip away at a nearly insurmountable lead.
In the following point, her outstretched backhand sailed just wide, giving No. 5 Pepperdine (22-3) a 4-0 victory over the Wolverines(19-3) in the round of 16 at the NCAA Team Championship.
Up against a deep, talented singles lineup from Pepperdine, the doubles point offered the Wolverines the opportunity to take an early lead.
When the No. 3 doubles tandem of sophomore Andrea Cerdan and senior Bella Lorenzini jumped out to a 4-1 advantage, it looked like Michigan could do just that.
Yet the Wolverines’ lead evaporated, as the Wave’s Jessica Failla and Anastasia Lamachkine rattled off six straight games to steal the doubles point from the Wolverines and take a 1-0 lead.
“I thought Pepperdine played really well,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “That’s a team I think that could possibly win (the Championship). We needed to play a perfect match and we did not do that.”
At No.1 singles, freshman Kari Miller was stacked up against three-time All-American Ashley Lahey. While Miller took advantage of errors from Lahey to take an early lead, Miller was unable to close, as Lahey staved off multiple breakpoints to scrap her way to a 6-4 victory in the first set.
Despite a deflating loss in the first set, Miller came out with vengeance in the second set and took control.
“Kari is in every match she plays,” Bernstein said. “It’s a little bit that she’s young because she was up 40-0 a couple games in the first set and had a lot of opportunities. But Kari at the top of the lineup has been incredible for us. She’s up in the second set and still fighting and the kid she’s playing is a fifth-year and was number one in the country last year. That just shows you what Kari Miller is going to be for Michigan.”
Fellow freshman Jaedan Brown found herself in an early 3-0 deficit at No. 4 singles against Shiori Fukuda. After strong play from the baseline got her back in the match, Brown’s struggles serving lead to a 6-4, 6-1 defeat.
The Waves’ Taisiya Pachkaleva moved Cerdan all around the court to take a dominant 6-0 victory in the first at No. 3 singles.
Cerdan kept her composure, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second set, but Pachkaleva quickly retook the lead en route to a 6-3 win.
At No. 5 singles, Senior Alyvia Jones found herself in a back-and-forth affair against Lisa Zaar. With her team falling behind, Jones delivered a dominant serving performance complemented by 5 aces to earn a 6-4 first-set victory, hoping to be a catalyst for the rest of the team.
Jones’ success continued as she was leading 5-1 in the second before Pepperdine clinched the victory.
“She was so close to getting us a point there,” Bernstein said. “She’s a great kid and she cares so much about our program and fought hard today. She’s one that’s asking the score and wants to know what’s going on (with her teammates).”
As Michigan’s three seniors continued to fight to close the Waves’ 3-0 lead, the weight of the moment set in.
“These guys play tennis for I don’t know how long,” Bernstein said. “I think they realize it’s the end at some point. They’ve done so much for our program. They’ve brought so much leadership. Bella, Chiara, and Alyvia were great Michigan players and are going to be part of our program for a long time.”
While the seniors will move on, the exceptional play from the Wolverines’ freshman players throughout the season put the rest of women’s tennis on notice. This team is young and getting better.
After entering the NCAA tournament unseeded and playing every match on the road, including an upset victory over No. 12 LSU, they certainly have some postseason experience as well.