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Hawkeyes' Molnar one win away from joining elite group

BY PATRICK MASON | APRIL 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa senior Sonja Molnar stepped out onto the painted tennis courts at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex for the last time on April 20.

Her Hawkeye career started on the center court — she has played at the top spot her entire career — and it's only fitting that it came to an end there.

A relatively small crowd — perhaps because the meet began at noon on a Friday — had trickled in and found its seats in time to watch the Iowa star march out to the court with a smile on her face as she and two teammates were being honored during Senior Day.

Those fans have seen Molnar rise from the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, when she went 18-4, to become one of the three best players in Hawkeye women's tennis history.

The Canadian had a shortened freshman year as international paperwork issues slowed down the process for admission to the University of Iowa. She arrived on campus in time for the spring term.

"I only had a semester to show what I was made of and what I was capable of," Molnar said. "To receive [the conference honor] after only playing one semester was really awesome."

Molnar has accumulated 81 more victories since then, giving her 99 singles wins over her four years in an Iowa uniform. That tally is the third-best on the Hawkeye all-time list.

But you wouldn't know it from looking at her. She's modest about her accomplishments, and her oldest friend on the team, fellow captain and senior Ally Majercik, described Molnar as outgoing and "kind of goofy to be around."

Molnar's personality can be observed after practice or matches, but she flips a switch on the court.

"She really brings it on the court, but off the court, there's no ego, there's no high maintenance," head coach Katie Dougherty said.

Molnar defeated the nation's No. 11-ranked player, Michigan's Emina Bektas, on April 15. It was a big win for the Iowa senior — it was the highest-ranked opponent she has defeated in her career. But more importantly for Molnar, it was a match she really wanted.

"It was really important to me," Molnar said. "For two years, I've played the Northwestern and Michigan girls; it was always close, but lost. It was really disappointing."

Molnar's tennis career began almost 17 years ago, when she first stepped on a tennis court at the age of 5. Her two older brothers played often; not wanting to be left out, Molnar grabbed a racket to be like her siblings.

"I just fooled around and hit balls around," Molnar said. "I don't know how successful I was in the beginning, and most of all it was just fun, as with any little kid chasing things and hitting things."

She decided to chase awards and victories when she realized she actually enjoyed the game. She played at her tennis club through high school, garnering more experience and skill along the way, and won the national under-18 singles championship the summer after high school.

From there she went to Iowa and competed at the top singles spot for four years. She picked up three All-Big Ten awards and two All-Big Ten academic nods.

But it isn't enough for the senior. She said she wants — needs, even — that 100th victory before the ladder is pulled up on her career.

"I would like one more, and hopefully, I can get it," Molnar said. "… Without it, I would still say [my career] is successful, but I would look back on it I regret I didn't get that little extra."

That all comes down to Thursday, as Molnar will get one more shot to notch victory No. 100 in the Big Ten Tournament.

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


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