May 14, 2013
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Following its NCAA Regional championship victory over Notre Dame, the University of Michigan women's tennis team has its sights set on the NCAA Championships and its Sweet 16 match on Friday (May 17) in Champaign, Ill.
Head coach Ronni Bernstein would like nothing better than having all six U-M women play flawlessly from start to finish. However, knowing these players are all at a different competitive level, all she asks is to have each individual play hard for the team.
That sounds like a typical sports cliché, but in the game of intercollegiate tennis, it is anything but a cliché. And Bernstein knows it.
Creating a team atmosphere in an individual sport such as tennis could be the most difficult undertaking for any college coach.
"The Team, The Team, The Team" is one of the University of Michigan athletic department's guiding principles, but in tennis the team concept was almost nonexistent for these student-athletes prior to college.
Only a handful of top collegiate tennis players even played the sport at the high school level. Nowadays, most tennis players at the top-tiered schools advance through individual tournaments. A doubles competition in tournament play is the closest they come to working within a team concept. Now they are being asked to play for a team point, team success.
That means Bernstein must go out on the recruiting trail and find not only the great player, but find a player with a different mindset.
A point is a point, whether it comes at the No. 1 singles or No. 6 singles position.
The team needs each player to fight on even when the odds are stacked against her. When one's teammates sees her on the court battling, they know the opposition hasn't won the match. They know the pressure isn't all on just one person to get the fourth point and the team win.
In a recent interview, current women's tennis student-athlete Brooke Bolender made mention of just this concept, saying it is easier and more fun to play when a teammate is still competing on the next court. It lets your teammates know you are still fighting, and they know the team is still alive.
Now, this Wolverine team is still battling one point at a time in postseason play. Entering Friday night's NCAA action against the seventh-ranked UCLA Bruins, U-M has a 23-5 overall record and has lost only once since March 31. The Wolverines are ranked 10th in the nation.
The Friday evening match is going to be tough, but the Wolverines are prepared. Bernstein, who is in her sixth year as head coach, is taking U-M to its fourth consecutive NCAA Sweet 16 after winning its fourth straight Big Ten title.
The Wolverines accomplished all this battling one of the toughest schedules in the country. They faced 12 of the Top 25 teams in the nation.
Bernstein is working to advance Michigan beyond the Sweet 16. She has the competitive and championship background to do just that.
As a student-athlete at Miami (Fla.), she was named the NCAA Senior Player of the Year in 1988, reaching the finals in doubles and semifinals in singles at the national tournament.
Bernstein was only a sophomore when she teamed with Lise Gregory to win both the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor and NCAA doubles titles en route to a 29-0 record as the Hurricanes claimed the NCAA runner-up position.
Bernstein was also impressive in international and professional competition, so she knows how to win.
Since most of her success was in doubles competition, it becomes obvious that her techniques to build a championship team at Michigan -- year in and year out -- are coming to fruition very quickly.
Good luck this weekend.