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The ISU women’s tennis team does everything together. But when one of the team’s nine members was told that she should never play tennis again, the team’s chemistry grew even more.
Hristina Cvetkovic’s injury stems from her shoulder, which causes problems with an artery that restricts blood flow to her pinky finger on her right hand. Despite the fact that Cvetkovic may lose a finger, she decided to forgo the advice she received from a non-team affiliated doctor and continue her collegiate tennis career.
“I’m going to invite the doctors to come watch my match,” Cvetkovic said. “You can still play without your pinky; you have five fingers.”
When Cvetkovic’s team got word of her situation, she was showered with flowers and chocolates by teammates who feared that a close friend would soon be moving away and be forced to quit playing the sport she loved.
This support extended throughout the entire athletic department as members from ISU’s volleyball, football and men’s tennis team all came together to show support for one of the team’s strongest players, who was a big reason why ISU was able to go 7-4 in Big Sky play last year, punching its first ticket to the conference tournament since 2004.
“It’s scary not only for her as a tennis player, but as a person,” said teammate Megan Poe, who pairs with Cvetkovic for doubles play. “To have to think about not playing tennis ever again, but can she go to the college next year? She’s one of my best friends and to think that I can’t see her anymore was so sad.”
Cvetkovic now uses six-to-eight different grips, which has forced her to adjust her game, which consists of a powerful forehand that can end a rally at any given point.
“She’s back to pretty much normal form, but at any time if it does start bothering her, she’s done,” said head coach Gretchen Maloney. “It’s rough. It’s kind of a scary way to be.”
If Cvetkovic is forced to the sideline, ISU will have to count on the other eight members of the team, all of which are sophomores, for success in the spring season. ISU has one of the deeper lineups in the conference, which was a big reason why the team found success as the youngest team in the entire country last season.
“We’re looking really similar,” Maloney said on this year’s team, who began the season with a 4-3 loss to Utah State.
Last season, the group finished 10-11 overall and fell to Northern Arizona in the conference semifinals. ISU had six matches that were decided by one point, but came out on the losing end of four of them.
“I feel lucky that we finished where we did,” Maloney said. “Even at conference, to get to the semis, we had to beat Northern Colorado and they had match points against us, but we came back and won. It was crazy.”
This season, ISU was picked by the league’s coaches to finish fourth, but the players say they can win the conference.
“I think each and every one of us have substantially improved our games,” Poe said. “We’re all very different players from last year.”
The Bengals’ only home loss was to the University of Idaho, who was picked to win the conference this season. But success this year may be harder to come by.
“The fact that we all started together really helped. We did everything together,” Poe said. “We did freshman orientation together, we all met our coach at the same time and had a lot of the same classes.”
With a deeper conference and a tougher home schedule, last season’s cast of all-freshmen provided uncertainty within the conference, but this season, teams know what to expect. Southern Utah, Montana and Eastern Washington all have a collection of highly touted recruits, which will make wins harder to come by this season.
“I think it’s not necessarily going to be a cakewalk,” Maloney said. “We are going to have to work for it to get there.”
ISU will host Lewis-Clark State College on Feb. 2 and Weber State on Feb. 3.
“There’s a lot more pressure because everybody has expectations,” Poe said.