It would be understandable for a team that graduated the two winningest singles players in school history to take a step back the following year.
But the No. 14 Michigan women’s tennis team doesn’t have any plans to rebuild, and coach Ronni Bernstein believes the seven-time reigning Big Ten champion Wolverines will remain highly competitive.
“You would like to reload instead of rebuild,” Bernstein said. “I knew we had a lot to replace, and I think we did that.”
Part of the replacement of departing players comes from the development of incumbent players, as well as an incoming freshman class of Brienne Minor, Kate Fahey and Teona Velehorschi that will play a big role in determining Michigan’s season fate.
“I’m excited about our freshman class,” Bernstein said. “I think, tennis-wise and as people, that we did a really good job there. Hopefully, they can help us up high in the lineup, and their work ethic is really good.”
Minor and Fahey, in particular, will have to play well in the singles lineup for the Wolverines to be able to defend their Big Ten title. The two freshmen arrived on campus with a great deal of hype — they were ranked No. 9 and No. 12 in the nation, respectively, by tennisrecruiting.net.
Both have lived up to the billing so far, sporting impressive records in both singles and doubles from fall season competition. Minor, who is ranked No. 19 in the country in singles, is 16-3 in singles and 11-2 in doubles, while Fahey is 10-5 and 8-4, respectively.
Senior captain Ronit Yurovsky was also complimentary of the freshmen.
“I think they’re a really good class,” Yurovsky said. “They practice so hard and care so much about the team. They play a big role on the team, and they’re going to have a big impact.”
While Michigan has reloaded with its freshman class, the Wolverines will have to combat their youth.
Yurovsky herself will have to play a larger role on the team as its most experienced returnee. She is the only senior on the team, and after ending last season ranked No. 25, she has climbed to No. 17 as the winter season begins.
Yurovsky, who has played mostly in Michigan’s No. 2 singles spot, will now presumably move to the first spot vacated by four-time All-Big Ten player Emina Bektas.
Though Bektas’s shoes may seem big to fill, Yurovsky believes she’s up to the task.
“Nothing’s really changed,” Yurovsky said. “I’ve pretty much prepared the same as if I would every other year, but I’m starting to focus on playing with more confidence. I think that’s key especially if you’re playing higher up.”
In addition to playing at a higher spot in the lineup, Yurovsky will also need to be a leader for what is an exceptionally young team — the sole upperclassmen on the roster are Yurovsky and junior Sara Remynse.
Yurovsky credits last year’s captains with teaching her how to be an effective leader.
“(They) did a good job of showing you the ropes of what you do,” Yurovsky said. “I’ve definitely taken in what they’ve done, and it’s helped me for this year.”
As Michigan prepares for the upcoming dual-meet season, it will both try to find the best lineup and continue to be aggressive on the court.
During the fall season, the Wolverines were without many of their players due to injuries and illness, which has meant a fairly unsettled lineup.
“(The lineup) is going to work itself out,” Bernstein said. “Some of the kids that have played more are more match-tough right now. I’m excited that everyone is healthy again.”
Meanwhile, the Wolverines have been working on shortening points and being aggressive by doing drills that involve hitting approach shots and coming up to the net, which should help for the indoor portion of the season.
“What we preach is that you’ve gotta win the point,” Bernstein said. “(We’re) not going to stay back and grind and wait for them to miss. We’re going to come forward and put pressure (on them).”
Though Michigan is a young team in need of improvement, Yurovsky remains optimistic about the season.
“I think that once we get together as a group it will click,” Yurovsky said. “I think that we could do really well (once that happens).”
While still early, if Wolverines can gel as a team the way their captain wants while staying as aggressive as Bernstein desires, they’ll have a shot to make some noise when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.