Big 12 tennis tests newcomer

Sophomore Chrissy Svitek came to MU from Northern Illinois University where she was No. 1 in singles and doubles.
Sunday, March 12, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

Chrissy Svetlic, a sophomore on the Missouri tennis team, has never backed down from a challenge.

A Kansas City native, Svetlic transferred from Northern Illinois University to become one of three new players for the Tigers this season. She played at both the No. 1 singles and doubles positions at NIU, but didn’t feel she was getting any better and was hungry to play in a more competitive environment.

“You could just tell she wasn’t happy where she was at,” Missouri coach Blake Starkey said. “She’s very driven, and she had a bigger picture of herself, and I like that. You have to respect that.”

If better competition was what she was looking for, she couldn’t do much better than the Tigers’ opponent on Saturday, No. 11 Baylor. The Bears, who own the best record in the Big 12 (11-2, 4-0), won the meet, 5-2 over the Tigers (5-5, 0-4).

“We’re not going to see a tougher team all year,” Starkey said. “But we were competitive. If we keep doing that, good things will happen.”

Just ask Svetlic.

Playing in the No. 3 doubles spot on Saturday with fellow newcomer Val Dandik, she found herself embroiled in a difficult match. Tied 6-6, the duo won the next two games for the win, despite the fact it was the first time they had been paired together as a doubles team. Svetlic normally plays with senior Hana Kraftova at the No. 1 doubles position, but a back injury kept Kraftova from competing on Saturday.

Svetlic says Starkey’s coaching, combined with the work ethic of the team and the surrounding talent level has already improved her game.

“Just playing with these girls everyday, you have to get better,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

There were times when it wasn’t so much fun. When she was little, she remembers wanting to play with her older siblings, two brothers and a sister. They used to tell her to go hit against the fence until she got better. It must have been good practice.

“Now, they always ask me, ‘Chrissy, will you play with me?’ I’ll say, jokingly, ‘How about you go hit against the fence? See how that feels.’”

Svetlic has always been driven when it comes to sports. She’s played just about all of them, including hockey, baseball, football and swimming. Her mother, Karen, remembers Svetlic saying while playing high school volleyball, “Mom, I want it more than they do.”

But at 5 feet 6 inches, Svetlic decided tennis would be her focus, feeling her height would keep her from being able to play volleyball at the Division I level in college.

Svetlic is also ambidextrous. She throws and bowls right-handed, but writes and plays pingpong left-handed. When playing tennis, she used to serve right-handed, then switch her racket to her left hand, and use a two-handed grip for both forehands and backhands.

When she was 14, she decided to play right-handed only, feeling it would improve her game in the long run. It took two or three years, though, before she finally felt comfortable with it.

“There were days when I wanted to quit because I’d be losing to people I knew I could beat left-handed,” she said.

Now, it’s become an advantage.

“Every once in a while, I’ll hit a left-handed volley or lob,” she said. “That kind of surprises people sometimes.”

Her love of athletics also carries over into her studies. Svetlic is double-majoring in nutrition and fitness, and dietetics. She hopes to work in either sports nutrition or training.

“I like being active,” she said. “I’m not the type of person to sit in front of the TV.” Except for the occasional reality show, which she reluctantly admits is her weakness.

“It’s bad news,” she joked.

Although Svetlic hasn’t always been in the singles lineup since coming to Missouri, and is usually in the No. 5 or 6 spot when she does play, Starkey said it’s only “a blink of the eye” separating her from the No. 3 spot. Perhaps more importantly, she is gaining experience against the talent level of teams such as Baylor.

“In the Big 12, you don’t get an easy match,” Svetlic said. “It’s a lot more competitive.”

Exactly how she likes it.

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