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Molnar a shining star

BY JON FRANK | APRIL 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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In only one season, Sonja Molnar has managed to create a career of accomplishments.

Playing in the No. 1 spot for the Iowa women’s tennis team, Molnar has earned the respect of her teammates, coaches, and the NCAA. Named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year and Player of the Week twice this spring, Molnar has her eyes on new and unfamiliar places.

“I would love to make the NCAA Tournament,” she said. “That was my goal last year, but I didn’t make it. I didn’t win the high-rank matches.”

One difference between Molnar’s play last year and this spring is she has won those big matches. On Sunday, she defeated Ohio State’s Kirsten Flower — then ranked No. 66.

On March 20, Molnar downed No. 95 Alexandra Kichoutkin of Tulsa, and on March 7, she defeated DePaul’s Anna Redecsi in a tiebreaker set. The conclusive match helped the Hawkeyes edge the No. 24 Blue Demons and lifted Iowa to a No. 35 ranking.

Molnar — happy but not satisfied with her performance this season — wants to avoid hitting a plateau and continue to scale the mountain toward personal greatness.

“My biggest obstacle is myself,” she said. “Tennis is a big mental game. Lots of it comes down to you and your determination. Mentally, I know there’s always something to work toward, learning a new shot, for instance. When everyone is good around you, it comes down to the little things, and there is always room for improvement.”

Molnar credits her work ethic and obsession with improvement to the early start she got in tennis.

At 5, she played for the first time, coached by a man with an impressive résumé, a history of producing professional players, and the ability to teach young players to channel natural skill.

Harry Greenan, a head tennis pro and instructor with Courtside Tennis Academy at Royal City Tennis Club in Guelp, Ontario, Canada, was Molnar’s mentor at her start as a player, and he remains a strong influence in her life today.

Molnar said she faced a tough challenge when she left Canada to play at Iowa.

“It’s not easy changing coaches. [Greenan] has produced lots of talented players and lots of professionals,” she said. “I still talk to him when I go back home and try to talk to him every week.”

Although she left home far behind and was no longer able to train under her childhood mentor, Molnar said she loves playing for her new coach, Katie Dougherty, who has helped her continue to improve.

Dougherty said she recognizes Molnar’s talent and appreciates her effort.

“She has great all-court game,” she said. “She has a great understanding of her strengths and weaknesses and is a fantastic competitor. She always maximizes practices and gets the most out of herself.”

Despite her success as a singles player, Molnar said her biggest achievement this spring has been playing alongside senior Merel Beelen and going 8-1 in doubles play this season since combining forces against Princeton on Feb. 27.

As a team, they are ranked No. 15 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, a school record.

Molnar’s teammates also appreciate her hard work on the courts.

“She a great asset to the team,” junior Jessica Young said. “She’s very energetic, and she’s matured lots since her freshman year … emotionally and physically, and it’s shown through her long matches that she’s won.”



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