Now in the final week of the 2006 regular season, with the NCAA Division II Playoffs fast-approaching, the UC San Diego Women’s Tennis team is 12-6 overall, ranked 17th nationally and already owns its third consecutive CCAA championship. One of the key components on Coach Liz LaPlante’s squad is junior Marsha Malinow, who plays No. 1 singles and has teamed with freshman Ina Dan to go 13-2 at No. 2 doubles. Born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, the energetic Malinow was not even in the starting lineup as a freshman, but vaulted into the top singles slot as a sophomore. “Marsha has improved a lot since her freshman year,” says LaPlante. “She’s always been very aggressive and hit the ball hard, but she’s become a much smarter player—mixing her shots, working the points and just playing much more consistently.” Malinow and her teammates will be traveling to Hawaii next week to challenge Hawaii-Hilo, a team that defeated them, 5-4, earlier in the season. The winner of that NCAA Regional match heads to Kansas City (MO), May 10-13, for the 16-team NCAA Division II Championships. On the eve of the post-season, she took time to talk about her career, her team and what’s ahead.
Q-What’s changed most about your game since coming to UCSD?
MALINOW—I’ve become a lot more consistent and focused. I’m not trying to just kill the ball with every swing. I work the points better with a variety of shots.
A lot of it is mental. I’ve actually worked with a sports psychiatrist to relax more and that’s helped me. It’s allowed me to balance the combination of being pumped up and calm.
I’ve always been an aggressive player. I grew up playing a lot on clay so I have been primarily a baseline player. The coaches have pushed me to come in more and now I’m finishing off points at the net.
Q-Can you tell us more about the mental side of your game?
MALINOW—I began playing tennis at five and I’ve always stayed in good shape so the physical part of the game was never a problem. Stroke-wise, my game has always been OK. The mental toughness aspect sometimes deserted me. I didn’t always have the focus, consistency or confidence you need to win tight matches.
After working on that part of the sport, I’ve found that I don’t let things distract me as much now. I’ve used mental imagery and relaxation techniques and started believing more in my game. I’m better able to balance “under confidence” and “over confidence.”
I stay neutral where in the past I might have let things get to me.
Q-What are the defining characteristics of your game?
MALINOW—I’ve always had a big serve and big forehand. I try to play a consistent backhand, wait for a forehand opportunity and then rip it.
As I said, I’ve varied my game since coming the UCSD and know it’s a key to being successful but I still like to attack and be aggressive.
I try to set up points with my serve and the forehand down the line is definitely my favorite shot.
Q-You’ve traveled quite a bit. What’s been your path to UCSD?
MALINOW—Well, my parents are from Argentina and my father is a chemical engineer. We moved several times because of his job. I was born in Brazil but left at four and came to San Diego (Scripps Ranch).
We then moved to Miami and then I went back to Brazil for my junior year of high school. We moved back to San Diego and I finished up high school at Torrey Pines and then came to UCSD.
Q-Is there any added pressure playing in the No. 1 singles position?
MALINOW—Last year, I felt so much pressure. Throughout the season, I was pretty stressed out because I hadn’t had any match play my first year and didn’t have that foundation of experience to draw on. You feel responsible to the rest of the team. I let it get to my head and really didn’t enjoy the game as much as you should.
This year has been much more relaxed and the results reflect that. My doubles game has improved tremendously. I’m still a little shaky but I love my partner and we work well together. Overall, for me there’s been a huge difference from last year to this.
Q-Besides tennis, what are some important aspects of your college life?
MALINOW—I’m a founder and secretary of the Brazil Club on campus and a connection leader at Extension, teaching English to international students.
I’m also a member of the Hillel Club and Israel Alliance. I’m planning to go to Israel next year. Our entire team volunteers at the Preuss School, teaching tennis.
I work as a tennis instructor at the Pacific Athletic Club and do some tutoring and babysitting on the side.
Q-What types of things do you like to do in your free time?
MALINOW—I love going to the beach, particularly Del Mar and La Jolla Shores, enjoy spending time with friends, traveling, shopping and exercising. I don’t sleep a lot, except before matches.
Q-Speaking of travel, what are some “new” destinations you’d like to visit?
MALINOW—I’ve never been to Hawaii, so I’m really excited about playing Hilo in the Regionals. I didn’t get to go with the team when I was a freshman.
I’d also like to go to Germany. I’m an international studies major and German studies minor. Although it wouldn’t be new, I miss Brazil and would like to go back.
Q-You’re fluent in several languages. Has that been a product of your travels?
MALINOW—I’m fluent in English, Spanish, Portuguese and German in that order. Honestly, I’ve known these four languages since I was eight or nine. English, Spanish and Portuguese were just part of growing up in our house. I studied German from fourth through 10th grade. My grandmother is Austrian and she spoke German with my mother and they kind of pushed me into it.
I’d really like to learn Italian and French—and maybe Hebrew. But it gets tougher as I get older.
Q-What role has your family played in your tennis career?
MALINOW—Oh gosh, a major role. My mom always picked me up from school and drove me to lessons, clinics and practice—pretty much everyday. My mom and dad never pushed me. They were always perfect in their support of my tennis.
My dad was a major athlete. He was a big squash player in Brazil and the head of the Maccabbi Games. He was a big motivator for me and took me out to play and practice from the time I was five or six.
Q-What accomplishments are you most proud of, on and off the tennis court?
MALINOW—One tennis memory that still stands out was my freshman year at Coral Reef High School in Miami. My doubles partner and I won the Florida State Championship. It was totally unexpected. We were underdogs all the way and just went out to have fun. It was amazing and it’s cool to see the banner still up in the school gym.
Off the court, I think it would be making the Headmaster’s List my junior year of high school in Brazil.
Q-What differentiates the UCSD tennis team from other teams you’ve been part of?
MALINOW—We get along so well. We’re very close, like a big family. This year’s team is particularly awesome. It’s also very organized and Liz has developed good team chemistry. We all spend time together outside of practice.
Q-What one word would you use to describe each of the other five players in the UCSD singles lineup?
MALINOW—Katie McKee is super-consistent. For Ina I would say “strong.” I have two words for Kristin Bronowicki—positive and well-rounded. Justine Fonte is “Hollywood,” she’s a star, and Molly Sullens is “hilarious,” a good player who keeps things loose.
Q-How important is the coaching staff in an individualized sport like tennis?
MALINOW—Extremely important. Liz is really organized, develops team camaraderie and really pulls all the pieces together. Technically, she tends to tinker with your game and point out weaknesses for you to work on.
Timmer (Willing), our assistant coach, is crucial. He works on the technical part of the game, strategies and conditioning.
Q-The team won recently won its third straight conference title. How did that feel and how far can the team go in the NCAA Playoffs?
MALINOW—Winning the CCAA again was a big deal and everyone is happy about that but Cal Poly Pomona was our toughest match and it was fairly easy. Right now we just want to beat Hawaii-Hilo. We need to come out strong there and get to nationals.
Just to make it to Kansas City would be huge, but you never know what might happen. I feel like we’re improving at just the right time. We lost some close matches early and I think we would win some of those if they were played now. It will be interesting.