The score was 40-0, and Chiara Lommer had three chances to win the women’s Big Ten Tennis Tournament Championship for Michigan. The match was all but clinched, but the sophomore couldn’t look at it that way.
After all, the Wolverines had already lost to top-seeded Northwestern in the regular season, but Lommer helped Michigan enact revenge when she switched the down the line rally and hit a cross court winner — just out of reach of Wildcat Maddie Lip.
The Wolverines stormed the court in celebration over their 4-3 win and a title that had escaped them the past two years.
“It feels good, especially the way the year went,” said Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein. “I think in years past, we’ve maybe been ranked higher nationally and then fell a little short in this tournament. But today, we had our backs against the wall for sure at the end of that, and just proud of the fight we showed and the toughness there.
“We’ve had a lot of, I shouldn’t say setbacks, but tough matches in the finals in years past so it was definitely nice to come out on top.”
Lommer clinching the match wasn’t all that went into winning the title; even the championship match against Northwestern was just the ending of a much bigger story.
Winning a Big Ten Championship was something that was on Michigan’s mind since the players returned to Ann Arbor in the fall, and the Wolverines have been preparing for this moment all season. So when they opened the tournament against Michigan State, nothing was going to stand in their way.
On the heels of securing the doubles points and singles wins from the top three in the lineup, Michigan blanked the Spartans 4-0. The Wolverines had previously played Michigan State just the weekend before and came away with a similar result. But if Michigan’s next match of the tournament against Illinois was any indication, tournament play is an entirely different beast.
After dusting the Fighting Illini 4-0 in the regular season, Illinois rose to the occasion this time around. The Wolverines were down 3-2 after an uncharacteristic loss from junior Kate Fahey in the No. 1 spot. It all came down to Lommer at No. 2.
She fell behind early and dropped the first set, 6-2, but battled back to force a third with a 7-5 win in the second set. It was all Lommer from there on out, and she closed the third set, 6-3.
The championship match was set.
With the Wildcats handing Michigan its only loss of conference play, it seemed only fitting that the Wolverines would have to get through Northwestern in order to capture the championship. But it didn’t matter who was on the other side of the net on Sunday, all they wanted was a Big Ten Championship.
“I mean if you can’t get pumped up for the finals of a conference tournament then I think something’s wrong with you,” Bernstein said. “The girls were excited, we saw it as an opportunity.
“… Even the loss to Northwestern, we had put ourselves in a position to win it and just got a little unlucky, and today it worked out for us. It was a great tennis match.”
The Wildcats came out with the aggressive doubles play that they’re known for, easily clinching the doubles point. Michigan had its work cut out for it, but the Wolverines shine the most in singles play.
Impressive two-set victories from junior Brienne Minor and freshman Alyvia Jones, in the No. 3 and No. 4 spot, respectively, gave Michigan the advantage — but it didn’t last for long.
Northwestern rattled off two more wins to put them within one. Fahey and Lommer remained, and neither could lose.
So they didn’t.
Fahey’s three-set win evened the score at three with an approach shot that sent her opponent out wide, leaving a wide open court for Fahey to easily put away the volley.
That meant all eyes were on Lommer — again.
Lommer had handily won her first set, 6-3, but the second escaped her as she dropped it, 6-3. Lipp carried the second-set momentum into the final set and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead. But as the fans and Lommer’s teammates began to make their way over to her match, it was as if she capitalized on the added pressure.
“It was incredible,” Bernstein said. “That kind of pressure two days in a row … I mean she started hitting the ball a lot more and dictating play and turned it around. I think physically she took that match from the Northwestern girl.”
Lommer and Lipp were evenly matched, and anyone could have taken the victory. But Lommer’s ability to win the crucial, stressful points is what set her apart. With college tennis playing no-advantage scoring, Lommer took advantage of the deuce points to steal the match.
And in that final game, she ran away with it.
The match may have started off slow, but so did Michigan’s season. It lost eight out of nine non-conference matches, but all it took was one win against Iowa back in March to set them back on track. The Wolverines looked at the Big Ten season as a clean slate, and they took that momentum and ran away with it.
“I’m just really proud of this group,” Bernstein said. “How they responded and rebounded, this is probably the one year where we were struggling for the first six weeks of the season and for us to come home with a Big Ten Tournament title, I mean it says a lot about our girls and their character.”