On Friday morning in Ann Arbor, Mich. the Wisconsin women’s tennis team will set out to accomplish two things: make a run at this weekend’s Big Ten Conference Tournament and win enough matches to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Carrying with them a three-match winning streak, it appears the Badgers (14-10, 5-5) have saved their best tennis for last, peaking at the right time heading into all-important tournament play.
“I think we’re playing extremely good tennis,” head coach Brian Fleishman said. “We’re playing the best tennis we’ve played all season now and that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.”
The Badgers grabbed the fifth seed and a first round bye in the tournament with their wins against Iowa and Illinois this past weekend.
If Wisconsin is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the team must beat fourth-seeded Ohio State in the first round in the quarterfinals on Friday and then subsequently beat the 1-seed, Michigan, in the semifinals on Saturday.
However, beating either team is easier said than done. In Wisconsin’s regular season matches against both groups, they lost 2-5 and 0-7 respectively.
Against Ohio State, Wisconsin took the early doubles point, leading 1-0 as they switched over to singles. According to Fleishman, the energy his team used to propel them to the early lead quickly evaporated.
“If we can just play every point for itself and just stay on them from the beginning to the end we can beat them,” junior and No. 2 singles Aleksandra Markovic said. “They’re pretty tough but we can beat them.”
Though the positive attitude is there for the Badgers, there’s a good chance one big part of the team’s success throughout the regular season won’t be: freshman standout and No. 1 singles Jenny Hois.
Recently, Hois was sidelined with nagging tendonitis, an injury that kept her out of both matches against Iowa and Illinois this past weekend.
Hois was also the only singles player to win her match against Ohio State two weeks ago when the two teams last met.
Fleishman, however, is confident the team can step up in her absence. The coach draws back to last weekend when instead of Hois it was Alaina Trgovich who anchored the singles lineup and rose to the challenge for the Badgers.
“She loves that heavy ball,” Fleishman said. “Anyone who plays No. 1 is going to hit that hard shot. She likes that pace and the points aren’t as long at the top, which goes right into Alaina’s game.”
Trgovich, thrust into the arms of the spotlight at No. 1, remains confident the team can prevail over the Buckeyes, as well.
“It wasn’t our best singles two weeks ago,” Trgovich said. “I think we know we can do better than that and what to expect. I’m really confident. I think we all can do it.”
The other positive the team can take against Ohio State is the match will take place at a neutral site this time around. The Badgers’ first match with the Buckeyes took place in Columbus, which in Fleishman’s opinion proved huge for them.
“[The Ohio State fans] were on us from the beginning of the match to the end of the match,” Fleishman said. “I think being on neutral ground, anything can happen.”
If Wisconsin can take out Ohio State, they will likely face Michigan who takes on the winner of eighth-seeded Minnesota and ninth-seeded Iowa on Saturday.
Michigan would be the heavy favorite in the match, but Wisconsin knows that once they take the court, anything can happen.
“I’ll be honest, Michigan is pretty tough,” Markovic said. “If we lay it on the line I think we can [beat them] because last year we played them in the Big Ten Tournament and all of the matches were really close. We almost won the doubles point and almost won three singles matches, it was really close.”
For Markovic and her teammates, it’s going to take more than almost to beat Michigan and to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
They know it’s going to take a complete team effort.