Article Originally Published by Caleb Akpan on North Texas Daily
Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily
In her first two seasons, Ivana Babic did not make much of an impact on the North Texas tennis team. She rarely played on the court and off of it she faced personal tragedy. Despite this, Babic planned to be an asset to success coming into her junior season. The regular season is over and statistics show that Babic completed her goal.
“She’s been an inspiration really,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “For us coaches and the players. She struggled so much the first two years. Not really breaking into the lineup, huge adversity in her life, losing her father after her freshman year. She wanted to make it happen, she wanted to really feel like she could contribute to the team.”
The now junior was looking for an opportunity to play in her previous seasons. She is now a permanent part of the team’s rotation in both singles and doubles and wins regularly in both areas.
“Last semester, we wrote down our goals for this year,” Babic said. “One of my goals was to be in the lineup. These last two years I really haven’t played, I would only play if someone was injured. This year it was just one step at a time.”
Babic has won more matches in singles this year than in her first two years with the Mean Green combined. She was often not featured in the team’s singles lineup, also fighting illness and injury during her sophomore year.
“I definitely think that I improved,” Babic said. “One of the main reasons is that I’m playing. When you play matches, you definitely improve your game. You get the feeling for competing and fighting and it’s just so much different than sitting on the bench.”
Babic saw time playing in doubles with fellow junior Alexandra Heczey their freshmen year. In the 2016-17 season, they would go 3-6, but are now poised to take the No. 1 doubles pairing spot once seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze exit the team.
“I think she started taking this whole thing more seriously than she used to,” Heczey said. “She practiced extra and she’s really giving herself up in every match because she fights for every match.”
Babic made it a point to work on her game individually before the fall season started last semester. She practiced with volunteer coach Raj Lama and credits the experience with helping to advance her game.
“[I told her] you’re gonna do everything I say,” Raj Lama said. “You’re gonna hate me and you’re gonna love me. You’re gonna hate me because I’m going to push you very hard. I came here every morning, we were one of the earliest ones. 6:45 or 7:00 [a.m.] I would pick her up or she was here and then we worked very hard.”
Early morning practices led to eight or nine hours of consistent work on top of team practices according to Babic. The two would work on a variety of tactics related to Babic’s game.
“She’s a very good player with very good mechanics,” Raj Lama said. “She just lacked the intensity, the work ethic. Technically, we didn’t have to do too much. It’s just that [she needed] the repetition, a lot of it.”
Babic practiced about 12 days before the fall season started. Raj Lama said he credits Babic for not just showing up to the practices but executing everything he told her to preform diligently.
“Practice does not necessarily make someone better,” Raj Lama said. You’ve got to practice correctly and systematically. That’s what she did, just very little things.”
The impact of those practices did not show entirely in the fall. Babic and the coaching still believed she would continue to grow in the spring and their beliefs were proven this semester.
“I’m very proud of her, she’s a wonderful girl,” Raj Lama said. “She is very fun to be around. She’s been the most improved player for me.”
The junior will now view herself as a leader for the team in her senior year. Her improvements over the course of this season could have Babic slotted into the No. 1 singles slot for the team, replacing the all-time wins leader, Kononova.
“I’m motivated after this year,” Babic said. “My one step was to be in the lineup, but obviously I wanna play higher.”
Babic has the opportunity to finish her career with North Texas as their top player, one season removed from not gracing the lineup on a regular basis. It is an opportunity that her coach says he hopes she does not take for granted.
“You wanna see these kids every year get better and better,” Lama said. “Be leaders, be great players, make a mark, and leave a legacy.”
Featured Image: Ready to swing, junior Ivana Babic watches the ball to her racquet on March 8, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry.
Source: North Texas Daily