East Lansing, Mich.-- The Michigan Wolverines entered the Big Ten Championship as the seventh seed, however, they finished in a four-way tie for fourth during the regular season, but head-to-head losses forced them to the seventh spot for the postseason. Based on their play during the championship, the Wolverines have not been playing like the seventh seed. Michigan continued their impressive play by knocking off the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes 4-3, in the semifinals on Saturday.
During their only match of the regular season, the Wolverines took a deceivingly decisive victory from the Iowa Hawkeyes. In their early April meeting, the Maize and Blue took the match, 6-1. However, a closer analysis of the results show that the Hawks were much more in the match than the final score indicates. Three of Michigan's four singles victories required three sets and the fourth took a tiebreak.
Their semifinal doubles point matches picked up right where their last meeting left off. Early on, the Wolverines looked to be cruising towards the double point, leading, 6-3, 6-3, and 6-5 on the three courts respectively.
However, after Hillary Mintz and Jacqueline Lee lost on court three, 8-5, to Wolverines Elizabeth Exon and Debra Steifler, the Hawkeyes closed the gap on the first two courts.
With the score at 7-6 on both, Michelle DaCosta, the Wolverines' top player, was serving for the match against Iowa's top-team of Meg Racette and Mili Veselinovic. With the point hinging on those two courts, the Wolverines pulled through giving DaCosta and partner Kara Delicata the 8-6 victory.
The win forced the abandonment of the second match, which saw Michigan leading 7-6, but with the Hawkeyes serving. The doubles victory gave U-M a 1-0 lead heading into singles competition and it proved to be extremely valuable.
The sixth singles match gave Michigan a 2-0 advantage, when Nina Yaftali knocked off Hilary Tyler, 6-0, 6-3. Moments later, Iowa earned its first point when Meg Racette swept past Michelle DaCosta 6-1, 6-4. The four matches still in progress had their first sets split.
Iowa led on the third and fourth courts and the Wolverines had the first set in hand in the second and fifth singles matches. The first of those matches to be decided was the fifth singles, in which Michigan's Debra Steifler beat Jacqueline Lee, 6-3, 6-3. With the win at five, the Wolverines took a commanding 3-1 lead.
Despite being in a very deep hole, the Hawks came flying back. Anastasia Zhukova fought off a scrappy Kara Delicata at third singles to win 6-4, 6-3. Five minutes later, Iowa claimed another victory, this one at fourth singles. Mili Veselinovic claimed the victory over Leanne Rutherford, 6-2, 7-5. With the consecutive wins, Iowa had quickly pulled back into contention, now tied three matches apiece, with only second singles to be concluded.
On the second court, Michigan's Elizabeth Exon took the first set 6-4, only to see Hawkeye Hillary Mintz respond in dramatic fashion to win the second set 6-3. With their teammates lined up on opposite sides of the adjourning courts, Exon and Mintz continued to impress the crowd. Exon roared out to win the first five games of the third set, but after a medical timeout, Mintz fought back, winning the next two games, and serving, down 5-2. However, the comeback ended there as Exon broke Mintz to win the match and give Michigan the team victory, 4-3.
With the victory, the Wolverines advance to the finals, in hopes of claiming their first Big Ten championship since 1997. The Wolverines will meet six-time defending champion Northwestern in the finals on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. ET. Earlier in the season, the Wildcats defeated Michigan 5-2. Log onto BigTen.org throughout the 2005 Women's Tennis Championship for up-to-date scores, updates, and results.