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Michigan men's tennis embracing latest battle with Ohio State, in Elite Eight


Ann Arbor — As a general rule in sports, you never look ahead. Well, at least, you never admit to looking ahead. And especially not in the postseason. You do your very best to stay in the present.

Well, now, the present has arrived for the Michigan men's tennis team — and that present is Ohio State.

"Never heard of them," Michigan men's tennis coach Adam Steinberg said, with a laugh.

The chief rivals will meet in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight at 8 Thursday in Champaign, Illinois, after both advanced out of the Super Regionals they each hosted Saturday.

No. 5 Michigan won an epic match with No. 12 Texas, 4-2, at the Varsity Tennis Center, while No. 4 Ohio State turned back No. 13 Southern Cal, 4-2, in Columbus, Ohio.

Thursday will mark the fourth meeting of the season before the chief rivals, with Michigan holding the edge, 2-1. Both teams won on their home courts during the regular season, and the Wolverines won the lone neutral-court showdown, 4-2, in the Big Ten tournament finals May 1 in Madison, Wisconsin.

"I think that's great for us," said Michigan senior Andrew Fenty, who clinched Michigan's win over Texas with a comeback from down 4-1 in the final set. "Definitely great to play a team we beat twice."

Said senior Patrick Maloney, who won in singles and doubles against Texas: "It's awesome. It's gonna be a lot of fun. It's gonna be electric."

Electric, indeed — though perhaps not as literally electric as Saturday afternoon for Michigan, which started its match with Texas under the blistering sun on campus' outdoor courts, then, just as things were coming down to the wire, was forced inside by a ferocious storm.

First came the hail. Then came the Hail, with Fenty and Ondrej Styler, on neighboring courts, battling like crazy to keep Michigan's season alive — with Fenty getting that clinching point.

"Oh, yeah, it's great," sophomore Nino Ehrenschneider, who had just clinched his match Saturday (winning two sets in tiebreakers) before the team match was moved indoors, said of playing Ohio State. "You couldn't ask for more, the Elite Eight against our biggest rival. We've played them three times already and now we're on a neutral site again, just like the Big Ten tournament.

"We know we can beat that team. We already did twice. But we're going to prepare for it like we do every match, and it's going to be a lot of fun. 

"I trust my guys. This team is great."

This marks the first time Michigan has made the Elite Eight since 1988. It is seeking its second national championship, after winning in 1957. Ohio State has never won a team title in men's tennis, but finished runner-up in 2018 and 2009. The last Big Ten team to win a national championship was Illinois in 2003.

Other Elite Eight matchups Thursday include No. 1 TCU vs. No. 9 Kentucky and No.  3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Tennessee at 4 and Virginia vs. Florida at 8.

"It's exciting," said Steinberg, who won a national title as head coach of Pepperdine in 2006. "I have so much pride in the conference, and to have two Big Ten teams in the Elite Eight is great. Every coach in the Big Ten would say that. We have this bond, for sure, through the conference. So that part is great.

"But," he added, with a wide grin, "we obviously know each other pretty well."

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984