Dec. 17, 2009
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye iPhone app!
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
- Take the Hawkeyes With You: Iowa Podcasts
- Iowa and the Big Ten Network
- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
- Purchase your tickets online!
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, Aug. 12, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2009-10 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By David Meyer
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa sophomore Sonja Molnar racked up many impressive accomplishments during her freshman year of women’s tennis. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, first team all-Big Ten, and Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Region Rookie of the Year.
While Molnar took the Big Ten Conference by storm last season, she knows that there will be a target on her back this year. Her test now is succeeding despite the weight of lofty expectations.
“I have more of a reputation with people due to my record last year, and there’s an expectation I should be winning,” Molnar said. “It puts a little bit of pressure on me, but pressure is a privilege, so I just need to keep the same attitude I had last year and hopefully I’ll have similar results.”
The native of Guelph, Ontario, was highly-recruited by former University of Iowa women’s tennis head coach Daryl Greenan. Her immense talent was evident as she recorded an 18-4 singles mark in dual match play during the 2008-2009 season. Of her honors, Molnar was the first Hawkeye women’s tennis player in school history to earn the ITA regional award, only the fourth women’s tennis player to earn conference rookie of the year accolades and Iowa’s 12th first-team all-Big Ten selection.
“Her work ethic is excellent. On top of her talent, that helped her to be successful during her freshman year,” said Mira Radu, UI assistant women’s tennis coach. “She came with a winning attitude so that helped her, too.”
On Oct. 25, Molnar faced Northwestern All-American Maria Mosolova in the quarterfinals of the ITA Midwest Regional tournament. The match served as a barometer of Molnar’s progress.
“My very last match of fall season, I played the No. 1-ranked player in the NCAAs and I lost, 6-4, 7-6,” Molnar said. “Basically, that shows me I’m right up there if I can compete with her. It was disappointing to lose that, but it shows me that I’m on the right track.”
“I have more of a reputation with people due to my record last year, and there’s an expectation I should be winning. It puts a little bit of pressure on me, but pressure is a privilege, so I just need to keep the same attitude I had last year and hopefully I’ll have similar results.”
Although she was facing a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, Molnar’s coaches knew her aptitude was not a problem.
“I think she’s certainly capable of winning every single match in the Big Ten,” said UI assistant coach Chris Lueth. “She is definitely on par with any of the top players in the conference and can win every single match.”
The physical tools are clearly in place. For Molnar to take the next step, the key is going to be maintaining mental and emotional stability.
“There are going to be days when she doesn’t have her best game, and the best players are able to win even when they’re not playing their best tennis,” Lueth said.
During the fall season, Radu noticed that Molnar was already making strides on in those areas.
“She’s more mature mentally on the court,” Radu said. “She’s taking advantage of all her weapons during matches and adjusting to her opponents’ style of play.”
Another aspect of preparation that will help Molnar during the spring season is an ongoing strength and conditioning program. Her dedication could provide future inspiration.
“A lot of whether you win or lose is who wants it just that little bit extra,” Molnar said.
The small margin between victory and defeat translates into large changes in perception. Molnar was ranked as high as No. 75 in national polls last spring season. She wants to rank in at least the top 50 this year — preferably the top 30. Though she is still an underclassman, Molnar will be one of the leaders on a strong Hawkeye squad.
“Our goal is to make the NCAAs, and to do that we need to have a 9-1 record as a team, which I think is doable,” Molnar said.
That record would be a vast improvement over last season’s 2-8 conference mark, but Molnar’s coaches share her optimism. Of course, regardless of the sport, injuries are always a pivotal variable that oftentimes decide the outcome of a season.
“I think if everyone’s healthy, we have as a good a team as anybody in the Big Ten,” said Lueth.
That claim has yet to be defended, but Molnar will undoubtedly be pursuing perfection.
“I’m going out there to win every single match, every single point.”
Molnar and the Hawkeyes resume the season Jan. 23 by hosting Notre Dame at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Facility.