Jan. 12, 2012
The University of Michigan women's tennis team resumes its 2011-12 campaign this weekend, hosting No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 24 Arkansas and No. 27 Washington this Saturday through Monday (Jan. 14-16) at the Varsity Tennis Center. The Wolverines, ranked 10th, boast four ranked singles players and a top-25 doubles tandem after an impressive fall tournament season.
Head coach Ronni Bernstein took some time during her busy week of preparation to recap the fall season, introduce newcomer Amy Zhu and stress the importance of starting the season against quality opposition.
On the positives and negatives from the fall season ... "When you lose four players from the year before, you don't know how the team's chemistry is going to be. Since I've been at Michigan we have always had a very strong, united group. So that was kind of our focus thing this fall. We brought in three new kids and then Amy midyear, and they have jelled right away. The girls get along as well as the group did last year, maybe even better. That's been good to see the new kids fitting in and to know their experience is good. They do a lot together, so that is good. As far as stuff to work on, the freshmen all have different things but the returners kind of know the routine. We are working on different things for each of the new players, so it is more of an individual process. Maybe the biggest thing to work on is preparing for the dual-match season to start. We start off with a tough schedule with the kickoff and Tennessee and Vanderbilt right after that."
On difference in mindset from fall to winter/spring season ... "I don't know if it is a mindset, but what has definitely changed from when I first got here is that our fall results have been a lot better. I don't know if our team has just improved, but that has really been the focus and a kind of springboard to start off the season in January a little bit better and with confidence. We talk about it when we start out in the fall, even though it is individual oriented and not team, it is very important to our developing that confidence and being ready in January. It starts in the summer; tennis is a year-long thing. If we are not doing well in the fall, then we come into January unsure of what we have. Every match you play while you are at Michigan, whether it is for your individual results or your team results, is important. If they believe that, they are going to compete hard. Whether we win or lose, they need to compete. That is the kind of mindset we want."
On the time in between the fall and the winter matches ... "It's tough because it is so intense in the beginning of the semester when we're playing matches, and then in November, we only have them for two hours on the court. It's a tricky period because the kids really have to do it on their own. We start so early in January -- we are back a week and then we are competing this weekend -- so that's really the time when the kids have to step up, and they kind of bond together and have a schedule to make sure that they are fit come January. As a coach, you are pretty much hands off, so it's really up to the girls, and we can stress how important it is that they are ready come January, but they really have to put in the time."
On freshman Amy Zhu's addition this semester ... "We are really excited. Amy and her family are big Michigan fans -- her dad went to school here -- and she is a really good fit here. Through the recruiting process, (associate head coach) Teryn (Ashley-Fitch) and I just think she is a really good athlete that has a lot of room for growing as a player and getting better and better every year. So we are excited to have her. She has a great work ethic and she is a great student as well, so she brings a lot to our program. She is the first one that we have had come in midseason, and we don't typically do that, but she is helping us out by doing that. We just want to make sure that she is comfortable through the transition and don't want to push her too early because we do start matches right away. We are really excited to work with her."
On the Wolverines' four-member freshman class ... "We needed them to step up from what we lost last year with our seniors leaving. We had a great fall, and we talk about that with the girls. The results of the fall are very important just to prepare us once the dual match season starts. But obviously Emina (Bektas) did a great job winning the regional tournament and had some good results. Sarah (Lee) and Kristy (Dodge) also did quite well; they had some pretty good wins within the region and nationally. We got them some good competition in the fall, and I think now they are an experienced group that will be ready right away."
On starting the season with tough competition ... "This Michigan Invitational tournament has been great for us, because every year we have had three other really good teams that have pressed us early. It doesn't help us to not play tough teams. We want to be in those situations where we need to sort of push through, so you want to play good teams. It is individual, so it is not a team match necessarily, but the kids can get a feel for it because we play doubles against one of the top teams. By the time we play Western Michigan [next weekend], they are going to feel like they were in three pretty tough dual matches over this tournament."
On who's emerging as a team leader ... "We have a really good group, and I'm not sure I can really pinpoint one person. Everyone really does the right thing, and I am really fortunate because they make good decisions and work hard. We are young, but some of our freshmen lead. I think that we have kids that work really hard and are good examples for each other. Everybody believes in each other and there is not one person who really stands out. Michelle (Sulahian) is our captain, and she is our senior, but I think there is something from everyone on our team that they can look up to."