Resilient UM women's tennis team braces for NCAA Sweet 16

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ronni Bernstein joked she booked a hair appointment as soon as she and the Michigan women’s tennis team returned from upsetting LSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend.

Bernstein, in her 14th season coaching at Michigan, watched as her team gutted out the win to advance to this weekend’s Sweet 16 match against No. 5 Pepperdine on Sunday at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. The Wolverines trailed, 1-3, at LSU but won the final three matches, all going to the third set.

The Michigan women's tennis teams has a Sweet 16 match against Pepperdine on Sunday.

“I went to my hairdresser and got my grays fixed. It aged me be about 10 years that match,” Bernstein said, laughing, this week. “That was about as close as it can get. We had to turn that thing around, and it wasn't looking good. But when you fight, and you have a lot of heart, you can get through it. So that's kind of what our team did that day.”

Michigan, ranked No. 20, won the Big Ten regular-season title, its ninth conference championship since 2010, and this is the first time the Wolverines (19-3) have advanced to the Sweet 16 after playing the first two rounds on the road.

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“It's not easy,” Bernstein said. “We’ve hosted and gotten through before, but it's on the road, it's hot, it's weather that we really haven't seen, and the match was close to four hours. So I know we have a group that will fight really hard. Our girls were so tough. It was just incredible fight.”

Senior Bella Lorenzini, playing at No. 6 singles, clinched the match for Michigan after trailing 3-0 in the third set. She fought and took a 4-3 lead but then trailed 5-4, 30-love. But Lorenzini managed to break serve and won the final two games and the set, 7-5, to lift the Wolverines over LSU.

“That was pure adrenaline getting her through,” Bernstein said.

Lorenzini had been playing at No. 5 singles but moved into the No. 6 spot to fill in for freshman Gala Mesochoritou who had surgery last week to repair a torn ACL suffered before the Big Ten Tournament. Mesochoritou was undefeated in 17 singles matches before the injury.

Pepperdine has a solid singles and doubles lineup, but Bernstein wants her players to play with zero pressure.

“They're seeded higher, and we have to go in there just, like, let it fly,” she said. “Both teams are going to be nervous, but it's how you handle that.”

The team has mostly played a Big Ten schedule so Bernstein said it has been hard to know how the Wolverines stack up nationally. They beat Rice, 4-1, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and then LSU, 4-3. LSU was ranked No. 12.

“Getting through LSU may help us in the long run, putting us in a very uncomfortable situation, down (in the match score) and on the road, and with the heat,” Bernstein said. “It’s going to help us to have played in that and show that the girls can do it. I mean, just to be able to play this year, considering last March, who knew where we were going to be. To be able to play a full schedule and get 20-plus matches, and I didn't know if that was gonna happen in January, we’re just super grateful.”

Twitter: @chengelis