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Wolverines’ weekend sweep earns them an invitation to second straight ITA Championships

BY EMILY BONCHI
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 30, 2011

For the second time in three hours, the same two players were left on the court, with two points left to be decided. The weekend outcome hung in the balance.

The No. 8 Michigan women’s tennis team was ahead of No. 18 Southern California, 3-2, leaving the decision up to either sophomore Mimi Nguyen at the fourth singles slot or freshman Sam Critser, sitting at No. 2.

Nguyen clinched her match first, beating Kaitlyn Christian, 6-4, 5-7, 7-5, to give the Wolverines the victory and an invitation to the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. The University of Virginia is hosting this year’s event from Feb. 18-21.

Critser played her match out – and for good reason. After losing her first set 5-7, the freshman came striking back against 10th-ranked Danielle Lao in the second, taking the set 6-2. It took Critser 180 minutes to defeat the Trojan sophomore, but she secured the upset, and the Michigan win, with a 6-4 tally in the third.

The 5-2 victory gave the Wolverines (3-0 overall) their second straight invitation to the ITA Indoor Championships – just the second in program history.

“We’re confident,” Michigan coach Ronni Bernstein said. “We’ve got a lot of experience. We have some seniors, and there are some underclassmen who’ve been contributing. We’re going to go in and give it our all and fight like we did today. We’re feeling good about our chances.”

Just several hours earlier – before the two were each sent into a third set at singles – Nguyen and Critser played together at the third doubles spot. The other two matches had been decided, with Michigan and USC (3-1) each taking one. The duo had been leading the match 7-4, but lost their positioning, resulting in an 8-8 overtime battle.

A strong comeback by Trojan duo Cristala Andrews and Alison Ramos proved too much for Michigan, as USC took the overtime set and the doubles point.

The Wolverines could have let that decision set the tone for the rest of the match. Instead, the team stepped up and battled back, giving Michigan the weekend sweep and ITA invitation.

“I was nervous,” Nguyen said. “In doubles, the girls had come back and won. And again, my singles opponent had come back. But I had to get that stress out of my head to fight for the team."

After blanking Auburn on Saturday afternoon, 7-0, the Wolverines waltzed into Sunday’s ITA Kick-Off Final against USC ready to compete.

Freshman Brooke Bolender was the first one off the court for Michigan, after clipping her match against Ramos, 6-1, 6-1.

Michigan continued to pick up points against the Trojans, with seniors Rika Tatsuno and Whitney Taney picking up points at the No. 6 and No. 5 singles slots, respectively.

USC’s third-ranked Maria Sanchez collected a point at No. 1 singles, leaving deciding points in Nguyen and Critser’s hands once again.

“We lost a tough doubles point and (Nguyen and Critser) were obviously deflated afterward,” Bernstein said. “So I’m really happy for them, that they could come through. They just battled. They fought hard. “

Michigan collected its fifth consecutive ITA Kick-Off match win, giving it a 5-1 all-time record in the event.

The Wolverines will wrap up their four-match homestand this Saturday, as they host Kentucky at the Varsity Tennis Center, before kicking off conference play.

“This match shows how well we can do,” Critser said. “I think we can do really well this season. I’m very excited.”