South Xtra: Char-Houston grad is making a big impact for IUP tennis team

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At 5 feet 2, Tanya Timko isn't the type of tennis player who is going to strike fear in her opponent every time she steps onto the court ... and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"They probably get so mad at this little rug rat running all over the court," she said with a laugh. "I think it's an element of surprise. When we line up and do intros, and they announce 'Playing No. 1, Tanya Timko' and I step out, I don't look very intimidating. It's very psychological.

"It's not something I do on purpose, it's just who I am. I think it works in my favor because people get frustrated about it."

Timko has been frustrating opponents since she stepped onto the Indiana campus of IUP two years ago and was named PSAC West freshman of the year and first-team All-PSAC West in singles.

Just one year removed from Chartiers-Houston High School, Timko earned 42 combined wins in singles and doubles, which were the eighth most in IUP single-season history.

Last season as a sophomore she once again was named first-team All-PSAC West in singles and tied the IUP single-season record for combined victories with 50. Playing primarily No. 2 singles, Timko went 14-3 from that spot, ended the season 23-10 in singles and was ranked as high as sixth in the ITA regional rankings.

None of her success, however, is surprising to IUP coach Larry Peterson.

"She's a very strong player," said Peterson, in his fifth season at IUP. "I knew when she came in as a freshman she was a very strong player and she had the opportunity to have an outstanding career. As she's become an upperclassman, that's helped her some but she's always been an outstanding player."

As a junior this year, Timko has embraced her role as No. 1 singles player for the Crimson Hawks and has continued to tower over her opponents -- figuratively speaking, of course.

Playing what she said is some of her best tennis ever, Timko, a resident of Houston, recently put together a nine-match winning streak in singles and earned consecutive PSAC West athlete of the week honors for the weeks of March 31 and April 7.

"I honestly think it is my best tennis and I want to relate it all to confidence," she said. "I am just really confident out there right now. I've won some big matches and I'm playing well. I go out there on the court and I have the confidence that I'm going to win even though they're tough players."

Timko played perhaps her toughest opponent to date on April 8 when IUP played host to conference rival California. Lucie Sipkova, a senior from Pardubice, Czech Republic, is currently 24-4 in singles and entered her match with Timko the top-ranked player in the Atlantic Region and ranked fifth nationally in NCAA Division II.

Timko lost the first set, 6-1, but rallied in the second set, 6-3, to force a third set. In the third set, Timko went toe-to-toe with Sipkova before finally pulling out a 10-8 upset victory.

Instead of packing it in after dropping that first set, Timko said she just needed to simplify things.

"I was just like, 'I have to change something.' Honestly, what I did, I felt like I made way too many errors in the first set so that was kind of my game plan going into the second set, don't miss. I just didn't miss."

Neither player missed much in the third set but Timko said she saw Sipkova pressing a bit too much.

"I was not nervous at all," Timko said. "I love pressure. We had Billie Jean King come to our campus and give a talk and she said 'pressure is a privilege' and I think that really sunk into my head. I wasn't nervous and I could tell that the Cal player was extremely nervous and I fed off that. That rose my confidence up."

Timko's point at No. 1 singles was IUP's only point in the match as the Vulcans posted an 8-1 victory. Cal has not lost a match since Feb. 7 when it fell to Division I West Virginia University, 5-2, and in the past 10 matches has not lost more than one point in a match.

"Cal for IUP is our biggest rival," Peterson said. "The two teams have met in the conference championship the past three years in a row. They've gotten the better of us each of those years, so it's always a big match for us.

"Cal's top players are always the top-ranked players in our region so they are the ones we're always going after. For Tanya to come through in a big match like that was definitely a highlight for her."

For the season, Timko is 21-10 in singles, 6-0 in the PSAC, and is 23-4 in No. 1 doubles. She saw her nine-match winning streak end Saturday when IUP fell to Wayne State, 7-2. She wasted little time on the losing side, however, as she posted a 6-0, 7-5 win Sunday against Lexi Rice of Grand Valley State to help IUP to a 5-4 victory.

It was Timko's 21st singles victory of the season and ninth against a player ranked in the top 20 of a region.

"My game hasn't changed much ever since I was that wee little high schooler playing in the WPIAL," Timko said. "I wouldn't say it's all confidence, a lot of it is being in college in a different atmosphere with a team aspect. Being on a team is so much more supportive in college than it was in high school. You have other girls out there relying on you."

As a team, IUP, ranked second in the region and 44th in Division II, wrapped up its PSAC West schedule with a 5-1 mark, 15-8 overall, and opened the PSAC women's tennis championships Monday with a 5-1 victory against Mercyhurst in the quarterfinals at Indiana. Timko's match against Caroline Bristol went unfinished with the score 6-4, 3-6, 1-1.

IUP, seeded second in the West, now takes on East No. 1 Bloomsburg in the semifinals today at West Chester. Win or lose, Peterson knows that he has very little to worry about concerning his No. 1 singles player ... even if she is only 5 feet 2.

"She's a pretty diminutive kid, she's only 5-2, so she doesn't look like she has a ton of power but she can certainly pull the trigger and rip the ball through the court," Peterson said. "She has quite a bit of deceptive power particularly for her size.

"She has a good handle in terms of understanding her own game and what she's trying to do out there. She plays with quite a bit of maturity. When she decides to turn on her determination, when she decides she's not going to be beaten by a player, often times I can just go help another player on another court because I know Tanya is going to take care of business."

Rick Davis: or 412-263-3789.

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