COLUMBIA — Graduate student Nina Pantic had little time in Columbia before she climbed into a van with her new teammates for a six-hour drive to Bloomington, Ind.
Just weeks after her move from Los Angeles, Pantic felt immediately comfortable with the team of girls who cracked jokes and sang loudly the whole way. When they arrived, Pantic played her first match as a member of the Missouri tennis team in the Indiana Invitational.
Missouri vs. Wichita State
WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Wichita, Kan.
One week later, Pantic played her first ever match in the No.1 position as a college athlete.
"There was never a doubt she was in control of that match," Missouri coach Sasha Schmid said. "She’s incredibly calm on the court. I was so proud of her."
Pantic defeated Notre Dame’s No.1 Kristy Frilling 6-3, 6-1. The decisive victory paved the way for a successful season at the top.
Pantic played on the UCLA tennis team for three years before leaving for Missouri in January to study journalism. She is now a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism and a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.
After playing for UCLA, ranked fourth in the country, Pantic had to adjust to playing the top position for No. 72 Missouri. Despite the change in rankings, Pantic still considers her No.1 position at Missouri to be a challenge.
"Everyone’s just more hungry. UCLA has been set up for traditions, but here everything is new," Pantic said. "Here I’m playing the best girls in the country."
One month after transferring to Missouri, Pantic seems as comfortable on its court as any other player. She exchanges a high five with teammate and roommate Jamie Mera between points. She plays with a calm demeanor that allows her to control rallies. She hears “Yeah Nin,” from coach Schmid as she drills a backhand down the line.
Pantic's career at Missouri will be short, though; her eligibility ends with the spring semester. Schmid said she plans to use Pantic’s experience as a way to attract recruits for next season.
"Having her helps with recruiting. We point to the fact that we have players like that," Schmid said. "Even after her experience at UCLA, she’s still learning and growing at Missouri. Every match she’s played she’s gotten better."
Pantic plans to stay involved with the tennis team after her eligibility is gone.
“I owe Sasha and (assistant coach) Jason (Potthoff) everything. I got a family right away,” Pantic said of her coaches and team. “It still hasn’t hit me that I’m going to play my last match this semester.”