It all came down to one match.
Tied at 3-3, No. 20 Michigan and Northwestern looked to their five singles games to decide who would advance to the Big Ten Championship match. Freshman Julia Fliegner dropped the first set 7-6, just as she had to the exact same opponent, Christina Hand, a week before against the Wildcats. However, she fought back to win the second set, 7-5, and put herself in a spot to win it for the Wolverines.
And that wasn’t her only win on the weekend. Fliegner and the underclassmen played an integral part in taking down Northwestern and Ohio State, propelling Michigan to its fourth Big Ten Tournament in the past five seasons.
“I have been in that position a few times now and am much more comfortable being the deciding match,” Fliegner said. “It made me lock in and I knew there was zero room for error since I wanted to pull through for my team.”
After splitting the first four games, 2-2, both teams arrived at the adjacent court when the other matches ended. Thriving under the pressure, Fliegner rattled off three straight games, but then she went down 40-love while serving.
Just as it looked like Northwestern still had a glimmer of hope, Fliegner won four straight points to clinch a spot in the championship for Michigan.
“(Hand) flew a backhand long that I didn’t think was going out, but as soon as it landed everything was a blur,” Fliegner said. “I looked at my team right away and they were all sprinting at me and we were jumping up and down. It was one of those moments you watch as a junior player and hope to feel as a college athlete because it’s one of the best feelings in the world: winning with your best friends.”
Fliegner’s dominance continued through the Big Ten Championship on Sunday against No. 10 Ohio State, collecting singles and doubles wins to put her record at 5-0 on the weekend.
Other underclassmen stepped up too. Sophomore Kari Miller took care of business soon after Fliegner at the No. 1 spot, and her clinical 6-2 6-2 victory put the Wolverines up 3-0.
Michigan then turned to another underclassman to complete the unprecedented sweep: sophomore Jaedan Brown. The Wolverines were down in their three other matches, but Brown had a chance to bring out the brooms in a second set tiebreak. After battling to a 3-3 tie, both players took a break on the changeover. After that pause, Brown took control.
Just as Fliegner before her, Brown won four straight points and swept Ohio State. Michigan not only pulled off the upset, but dominated through its young players.
“It’s just incredible how these kids are stepping up and getting the job done,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “I can’t stress how well we played today. Ohio State’s a great team. … We pretty much couldn’t play better on every court. So (I’m) just really proud.”
The Wolverines’ underclassman flourished in the big moments. Not only did that young talent show poise to win the Big Ten Tournament, but it also heated up heading into the most important part of the year: the NCAA Tournament.