Friday, the Wisconsin women’s tennis team will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to open up Big Ten Championship play against Ohio State.
The Badgers will bring a three-match conference winning streak with them, providing the team with some much-needed momentum against a very difficult opponent in the fourth-seeded Buckeyes, a group that bested the Badgers 5-2 less than two weeks ago in Columbus.
At his Monday press conference, head coach Brian Fleishman discussed the importance of feeding off the winning streak, as well as the resiliency his team has shown throughout the course of the season.
“The players have done an extremely good job this year of sticking out some tough losses, not losing confidence and gaining more confidence as the season went on,” Fleishman said. “I think with the two wins this past weekend, we have a huge momentum swing going our way and I think we’ll compete extremely well against Ohio State.”
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they might face the Buckeyes without freshman standout and No. 1 singles player Jenny Hois, as she recently suffered an injury that has kept her out of the lineup.
If she can play, however, the talented freshman will provide important depth to the starting lineup. Fleishman said if Hois is healthy, she will be the Badgers’ top singles player.
“The doctors are telling us between now and Friday,” Fleishman said of Hois’ status. “I mean, there is a chance, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. With that being said, we went through matches this past weekend without her. It says a lot about the girls that did go out there and play. If Jenny’s there, we’re that much better. If she’s not there, I think we can still do the job.”
In some sports, it isn’t as common to see a freshman contribute at the level Hois has so far this season. However, when Fleishman recruited Hois, he knew what type of impact she could have on the team.
“I think in tennis you can actually bring in a freshman and they can be a program-changer,” Fleishman said. “That’s sort of the secret to our success this year: When we did have good wins we had two freshman that came in, Nicky Stracar from N.Y., and Jenny Hois from Downers Grove, Ill., did a fantastic job this year not really having that freshman aura about them. They played like upperclassmen.”
The last time Wisconsin faced Ohio State, according to Fleishman, the Badgers took the early doubles point by bringing a lot of energy to the match. But when singles play began, the young team had a difficult time carrying over the energy and the momentum that should have gone with it.
“Their home courts, their crowd, we let it get to us,” Fleishman said. “We did learn from this past weekend that energy is everything, and the girls brought it. They knew they had to step up because their No. 1 player was out and they did a great job of doing that both days back-to-back. I think now they know they have that extra bit of confidence that they can beat Ohio State.”
If the Badgers can get past the Buckeyes, they will face either No. 1-seeded Michigan or the winner of No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 Iowa.
Michigan is ranked No. 10 in the country and beat Northwestern last weekend to collect the Big Ten regular season championship and the subsequent automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Fleishman recognizes the tough road the Badgers have in front of them.
“It’s not like basketball and football where they take a certain amount of teams,” Fleishman said. “You have to earn your way in and for us to make the NCAA tournament this year, we’re going to have to beat Ohio State and then have to beat Michigan. That’s it … It’s going to be a tough task, especially playing on their home courts, but it’s graduation weekend, so you never know, a lot of distractions there.”
Saying goodbye to Seyferth
Last weekend marked the last regular season match senior Jessica Seyferth would play for the Wisconsin women’s tennis team. Seyferth didn’t win her last match, but according to Fleishman, even on senior day, the team’s win remained the most important result of the afternoon to Seyferth.
“She’s there for the team,” Fleishman said. “She’s more excited about the team win than the individual win. Of course, it was sad for her not to get a win on her senior day, but if you ask her, it’s all about the team and to have somebody like that that just goes out and battles in practice and on game day consistently, it’s going to be hard to replace.”