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Hawkeyes' Zordani getting in opponents' heads

BY PATRICK MASON | APRIL 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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A loud "Let's go" echoed through the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex, punctuating the cheers of the crowd. Another yell rang out moments later, followed by more applause.

Freshman Katie Zordani was on a roll. The fans knew it. She knew it. Her opponent knew it, too.

The 5-6 freshman from Lake Forest, Ill., stands out during every meet due to her audible emotion after big shots or important points.

"It comes naturally to Katie. She's a fiery young woman," Iowa head coach Katie Dougherty said. "I think it helps her win because if you get down against her, you never think you have a chance because she's all over you. She's fired up and in your face.

"… It's demoralizing when you're playing someone like that."

Zordani said using her emotion is important for both her individual and her teammates' successes. Zordani has an 8-8 record in singles, which ties her with Morven McCulloch for the best mark among Hawkeye freshmen. She's also a member of the Iowa-best 8-5 doubles team with fellow freshman Ellen Silver.

Zordani's past as a five-star recruit from Lake Forest High branded her with the potential to be successful for years to come, but she said her on-court intensity gives her more of an advantage at this point in her career.

"Mostly, it's to get me positive and to keep me going if it's a hard match," she said. "The more verbal and positive I am, it helps me. If I miss a shot or something, I'll yell just to reinforce that positive attitude. I guess it also makes my opponent feel pressure, too."

Zordani said officials at her high-school tournaments would tell her to "keep it down" because her screaming was bothering players on different courts. She said she felt as if she was being bottled up — but once she came to Iowa and played at the college level, she discovered Dougherty loved that aspect of her game.

"Dougherty encourages it. A lot of our team is quiet, and she wants us to be louder," Zordani said. "A lot of teams we play are loud and obnoxious — like Ohio State. They kept saying, 'On it,' to try to make you feel pressure, so I do the same. And the louder you are, the more the crowd gets going."

Several Iowa players have said they rally behind the crowd's intensity and use Zordani's momentum as well. Silver said she's normally a quiet person and originally played with an inner fire, but Zordani's yelling has elevated her own play.

Senior Sonja Molnar is another vocal leader whose energy also helps teammates on the court. Molnar plays at the No. 1 spot and is on the same side of the courts as the No. 3 and No. 5 players. Zordani plays at the No. 4 spot alongside the No. 2 and No. 6 courts

Dougherty said she didn't purposefully plan it like that, but having Zordani and Molnar on different sides of the court to spark their teammates is a welcome experience.

She said fatigue tends to set in during the grind of the Big Ten season, so it's a coach's dream when someone such as Zordani can help energize the team her fiery demeanor.

"Playing next to her is contagious," Dougherty said. "Her enthusiasm and how fired up she gets is great. Ellen definitely feeds off it, and Sonja does the same thing on the other side. It's rubbing off, and it makes our team better. It raises her level when fatigue sets in, and she can trick herself into getting that adrenaline rush."

Follow DI women's tennis reporter Patrick Mason on Twitter.


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