Desirae Krawczyk, Stephanie Vlad and Ebony Panoho don’t act like freshman.
All three are composed, polite, focused and mature, like seniors.
But the three of them are all true freshmen and were all in high school merely a year ago.
Their combined record does not look like it belongs to freshmen either.
They’re combined 15-7 on the season, which is good for a winning percentage of 68.2 percent.
What’s even more impressive is the level of competition they are playing against. Krawczyk has played mostly at No. 2 in the lineup against the opponent’s second best player.
Vlad usually plays at No. 3 and Panoho at No. 4, and they’re winning in the heart of the lineup.
Krawczyk (5-2) immediately noticed the increased strength of competition.
“In high school, there are good players, but it’s not consistent,” Krawcyzk said. “Everyone’s good in college. You can’t take anything for granted, and you can’t underestimate teams.”
Vlad (7-1) has also had to step up her game.
“There’s pretty much no easy matches when you play here. Everyone fights hard. No one really gives up in matches,” Vlad said. “No one’s really given me the match; you have to really step up and play.”
In Vlad’s last four matches, she’s 4-0, won 51 games and only surrendered 15 while dropping only one set. She’s not just beating these girls; she’s dominating them.
Panoho, a Brisbane, Australia native, is the only freshman without a winning record. She’s only 3-4, one game below .500, but that’s impressive factoring in the fact she’s only been in the country since January.
Panoho’s first match came just weeks after arriving in the U.S.
“I had a lot of nerves,” Panoho said. “I’d been training for a couple of weeks here, so it was my first match. I was a little bit nervous.”
Nerves tends to affect young players. Being on a larger stage can tend to make most freshmen’s eyes grow wide and their confidence grow smaller.
ASU’s freshmen hardly notice it anymore.
“There’s always pressure to play competitive tennis,” Vlad said “But I’m trying not to think about it too much anymore. I feel like I play a lot better when I don’t think about it.”
Vlad knows about pressure. She thrives on it.
In her most recent match against Pepperdine, with the match on the line, Vlad finished freshman Michaela Capannolo 6-1 in the third set to give ASU the win.
Krawczyk isn’t a stranger to pressure either.
Every one of her last three matches has gone down to the third set. Every time, she’s come out on top.
In the team’s Feb. 17 match against Santa Clara, it was Krawczyk who sealed the victory for the Sun Devils with a win in the final set.
Krawczyk’s key to dealing with pressure is simple.
“I’ve learned to deal with (pressure) and, you know, just play like you’re playing a normal match, like in practice,” Krawczyk said.
Tennis coach Sheila McInerney has had to alter practices as well as her coaching style to accommodate her younger team. The team not only includes the three freshmen but also two sophomores, Leighann Sahagun (6-2) and Joanna Smith (3-2).
“As a college coach, you’re probably doing more coaching their freshman, sophomore years than their junior, senior because once they have the certain techniques down, things you might be changing in your game, then you go for more technical work,” McInerney said. “It’s like anywhere, whether it be pro football or whatever, the first couple years you learn all the plays and things like that, it’s a little bit the same in tennis.”
During their matches, Krawczyk, Vlad and Panoho are all business. In practice, they show their lighthearted sides.
For example, if someone gets into a playful exchange with coach McInerney, it’s probably Krawczyk.
Occasionally, a yell of “Aw crapper!” can be faintly heard echoing through Whiteman Tennis Center when Vlad misses a point.
Sometimes “Oh fruit” will leave the mouth of the usually reserved Panoho.
It’s just a part of who they are.
“Stephanie’s just sort of a plotter, just sort of gets the job done. She does that academically, too,” McInerney said. “You give her a task, and she does it. She’s a really, really hard worker.
“I think Ebony’s similar, along the same lines as Steph. She’s a little bit quiet like Steph is and I think she works really hard. She’s had a big adjustment coming in, in January.
“Desirae came in, very talented and she’s a little bit more outgoing but a little more up-and-down too in terms of her moods and her tennis. ”
The three freshmen’s distinct personalities and play-styles are a substantial reason why the Sun Devils are off to a hot 7-1 start.
However, ASU still has 13 more matches left in the season with 10 coming against Pac-12 teams.
With the Pac-12 being arguably the toughest conference for women’s tennis in the country, things won’t get easier for the young Sun Devil squad.
It may be early to give Stephanie Vlad, Desirae Krawczyk and Ebony Panoho such high praise. It may add to the pressure.
One thing is for certain: They can handle it.
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