Sophomore leads Cats into national elite

By Brady Bauman

Success has become a norm for the Kansas State women’s tennis team of late.

Not only did the Wildcats enter the season ranked No. 46 nationally — while being ranked every week since last February — but the squad features one of the top individuals in the NCAA.

Sophomore Petra Niedermayerova went into this spring season ranked No. 17 and is considered the top player in the Central Region.

The Czech Republic native was the first Wildcat since 2002 and just fourth in school history to be selected to the NCAA Division I Singles Championships last year. She also qualified for the 2011 USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships — a first for a K-Stater since 1995.

Niedermayerova also advanced to the semifinals of the 2011 ITA/Riviera Women’s All-American Championships and bested three opponents ranked in the Top-30 or higher in three straight sets — including 2010 SEC Player of the Year and then-No.5 ranked Lauren Embree from Florida.

Niedermayerova rocked the Big 12, too — being named the Big 12 Player of the Year and the league’s Freshman of the Year last season.

“Petra’s Petra,” K-State head coach Steve Bietau said following Thursday’s practice. “She definitely came back in the fall a better player. She clearly did some things and improved some things over the summer.

“Her serve is better and over the course of the fall season, the schedule she played… I’d be shocked if it’s not in the top 10 individual that anybody in the country played, in terms of difficulty.”

In the National Indoor tournament Niedermayerova went 1-2 against Top 25 competition. In the Riviera All-American tournament, Niedermayerova rebounded with a 3-1 outing against some of the best players in the country.

“In two out of the three toughest tournaments in the year, she’s gone and played awfully well and combined for a 4-3 record,” Bietau said. “She has a winning record in those two events. So, that’s a pretty nice place to start with any team.”

Bietau — in his 28th year as K-State’s head coach — also pointed to junior Karla Bonacic, who entered this season ranked No. 94 nationally and No. 7 in the Central Region.

It’s the first time K-State has had two players ranked in the Campbell/ITA national singles rankings simultaneously since 2003.

“We have Karla, too, and she’s no slouch right now,” Bietau said. “She’s broke into the top 100 and she just beat a top-25 girl last weekend. So, Petra is not our only good player by any stretch — not our only national-caliber player.”

Niedermayerova said she’s transitioned from a freshman to a sophomore as a more polished and level-headed player.

“I feel like I’m a more experienced player,” she said. “I’ve been working on several things, like my serve and making it faster and more aggressive. I feel like some improvement has been made, but it’s only the beginning and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

“It’s fun playing those (national) tournaments and they’ve influenced me mentally on the court. I see when I need to be a little calmer.”

K-State is also in the national doubles rankings with Niedermayerova and freshman Marketa Trousilova at No. 28.

While the Wildcats were off last weekend, K-State started the spring season 1-1 with a 6-1 loss against Georgia and a 6-1 win against Troy in the Georgia Bulldog Invitational in Athens.

Bietau appreciates the spots many of his players hold in the national rankings, but said the loss against Georgia was a reminder that nothing is a given.

“We talked about the rankings when the girls got back and what a nice recognition it is for the double teams and having Karla in the rankings now — and that’s all nice,” Bietau said. “But Georgia didn’t care what our ranking was.

“It’s a nice recognition of what happened last fall, but we don’t think about it a whole lot. We’re really just busting our tail right now just to get better.”

K-State will be back in action Saturday against Wake Forest for the ITA Kickoff Weekend held in Clemson, SC.

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