June 1, 2017
By Steve Kornacki
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brienne Minor blazed a long-awaited trail for University of Michigan women's tennis.
Minor, unseeded entering the NCAA Singles Tournament last week, beat three of the Top 16 seeds en route to claiming the first national championship for the program. She defeated No. 6 Belinda Woolcock of the University of Florida, 6-3, 6-3, in Monday's (May 29) finals in Athens, Georgia.
Michigan has fielded a women's tennis team since 1973-74, and Minor became the first Wolverine to reach the top.
"It means so much to me that I get to represent such a great school in that way," said Minor.
She's only a sophomore, and so I asked what she planned to accomplish next season. But she didn't want to think that far ahead.
"I just want to enjoy this," said Minor,19. "I can't wait to get back to the team next year. I love playing for this team. But right now, I just want to enjoy it and take everything in."
It was fitting that her sisters, Kristina, 27, and Jasmine, 23, were there to watch her win the championship. They were the ones who inspired her to begin playing tennis when she was in kindergarten in their hometown of Mundelein, Illinois.
"It was my sisters who got me into tennis," said Bri (BREE), who prefers the shortened version of her first name, Brienne. "Once they started playing tennis, they immediately put me into it, and I just fell in love with it.
"We always talked about being the next Serena and Venus (Williams), and that's what got me into it."
Bri was thrilled to have her older sisters watch her shine on the national stage.
"They surprised me and came down before my semifinal match with Sydney Campbell," said Minor. "They were there for the finals as well. Afterward, they said, 'Congratulations!' They told me how proud they were of me. They'd watched me play tennis my whole life and really taught me. Once I got into tennis, they coached me.
"They were so proud of me, and I was grateful to have them there for the semis and finals. They still play tennis for the fun of it."
Minor participated in several sports before focusing on one.
"I did gymnastics a little bit and swimming with a little cheerleading," she said. "But tennis was always my main thing."
Minor, the state champion while going 34-0 as a senior at Carmel Catholic High in Mundelein, had to win six matches in six consecutive days to become the national college champion. She began picking up steam and confidence by taking down No. 9 seed Gabriela Talaba of Texas Tech, 6-4, 6-2, in her second tournament match.
"That definitely helped my confidence," said Minor. "She's a great player, and that was probably the best match I've played in a while. After that match, I was feeling pretty confident in every match, and was just relaxed and playing my game."
Minor won five of her six matches in straight sets. Only the semi-final match with Vanderbilt's Campbell required three sets, and she breezed in the third set, 6-0, after losing the first set, 6-7 (5), and recovering the win the second, 7-5.
What was her mindset going into the next day's title match with Woolcock, the senior MVP of the Gators' national team championship squad?
"I actually didn't feel that much pressure going into the match," said Minor. "I just took it like all the other matches I played before that one, and was just going in relaxed. I thought, 'This is the finals and I'm really excited. But whatever happens, happens. I made it this far and just want to enjoy it and have fun.' "
How did she manage to follow that plan and not give into anxiety or pre-match jitters?
"I think it was because I was just playing for myself," said Minor. "I mean, I know I was representing my school and my coaches and my team. But this was just all on me. It wasn't really about putting points on the board for the team this time, and it was just about me at that point.
"So, I did my best to play my game and just do my best."
She held true to form on that approach until the match point that made her champion.
"I was actually very nervous for that point," said Minor. "I knew it could go either way, and I was just hoping and praying I could get that point. I kind of held back a little on that point and didn't go for it as much because I really wanted that point. Luckily, I was able to get it. But it was nerve-wracking.
"I let my racket go (into the air) and it was a reaction to winning. I was so excited that I just let that racket go. It landed on the baseline behind me."
Minor played her best tennis under the toughest circumstances, and I asked what about her game enabled her to accomplish that.
"I like to use my forehand," she said, "but I try to mix it up. But I also think that my serves helped me a lot. I like to go big on my first serve. My forehand and serve helped me a lot, and just staying up on the baseline and going for my balls and not holding back was the big thing for me."
"She's impacted me so much," Minor said of Bernstein. "Her and Teryn have been amazing. I definitely wouldn't have made it this far without them. Those two being on the court with me has helped me so much. Whenever I would be down or upset, they would try to make me laugh and have jokes for me. They are such great coaches and I am so grateful to have them as my coaches.
"They've really improved my game a lot. They have helped me with my serve and my backhand. I had trouble with my serve last year, and I had trouble with my backhand this year. So, they've been on me about that and helped me improve both. They come early before practice to work on that with me."
It's said that practice makes perfect, and in Minor's case it made for a perfect ending to a championship season.