NCAA Tennis Berth Not Far-Fetched for the Hawkeyes

May 13, 2010

By David Meyer

IOWA CITY, Iowa — After posting a 7-15 overall record last spring, a goal of advancing to the postseason may have seemed far-fetched for the University of Iowa women’s tennis team. But the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes rebounded in a big way this year, making their way to an impressive 17-6 mark and accomplishing their primary objective — receiving a bid to the play in the 2010 NCAA Women’s Tennis Championships.

Powered by the No. 1 team of senior Merel Beelen and sophomore Sonja Molnar, doubles play has proven instrumental for Iowa this year, as it has taken the point in 18 matches, including all of the victories.

“Our doubles have improved immensely and it shows a lot,” said second-year assistant coach Mira Radu, “We won many more matches this year because of the fact that we’ve won doubles points.”

Radu also attributed Beelen’s recovery from injury a season ago as a major determinant in enabling the Hawkeyes to an at-large selection. Slotted at the No. 3 singles spot, Beelen has been a stalwart this season. Her health has been essential.

“We worked hard for it. It’s my last year and I was very happy to go,” said Beelen.

Molnar, is the No. 67-ranked singles player in the nation. The tournament berth resonated with her.

“That has been one of my goals since coming here and it was our goal as a team this year, so it felt good,” said Molnar.

Another key factor for Iowa has been the new woman at the helm, first-year head coach Katie Dougherty. Her initial campaign has certainly proven the hiring an ideal match.

“She brings great experience in coaching, especially since she had coached in the Big Ten,” said Radu. “She has such a positive and energetic attitude that clicked well with the girls. The atmosphere has been one of great work ethic, but having fun at the same time.”

Dougherty has managed to change the culture surrounding Hawkeye tennis.

“Our new coach really helped us get the mindset of, `Losing is not OK’,” said Molnar.

The players have bought in and dropped very few matches, paving the way to Iowa’s first NCAA Championship appearance since 2006.

“I think we have the potential to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. A lot of it will have to do with what team wants it the most, because at this level every team is good.”
UI sophomore
Sonja Molnar

The Hawkeyes will travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on Boise State (22-5) in the opening round on Friday at 9 a.m. (CT). Notre Dame will serve as the host institution at the Courtney Tennis Center.

The No. 5 Irish face Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in their first matchup. The winners of Friday’s matches will compete Saturday for a chance to advance to the regional semifinal, which will be held in Athens, Ga., on the campus of the University of Georgia.

“I think we have the potential to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. A lot of it will have to do with what team wants it the most, because at this level every team is good,” said Molnar.

The Hawkeyes fell to Notre Dame, 6-1, as they began the season on Jan. 23, but much has changed since then.

“I think we all matured a lot and we really picked it up in practice,” said Beelen. “We focused more and pushed each other. That’s helped us a lot in getting the results that we want.”

While a shot at redemption against Notre Dame may appear to be a poetic way to come full-circle in a memorable season, Iowa knows they have to get past the WAC champion Broncos first, who are in the midst of a 10-match streak of victories.

“We’ve been doing a great job this season just taking it one match at a time and that’s what we’re going to do right now,” said Radu. “Our focus is Boise State and we’ll see what happens after that.”