Photo: Taylor Soule
Junior Manca Krizman’s closet is decorated with photos of her favorite professional tennis player, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.
With his gritty play and determined personality, Djokovic sits atop the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings. Two months ago, he captured his fifth Grand Slam title by winning the 2012 Australian Open. A Grand Slam championship is one of the highest individual honors in professional tennis.
Last fall, Krizman captured the Missouri Valley Conference’s highest individual prize: a State Farm MVC Individuals title.
With tennis’ top athlete in mind, Krizman continues to serve, volley and lead her team into Drake women’s tennis lore.
“Manca is that fight and that grit and that determination, and people look to that,” said Drake head coach Paul Thomson.
With every swing of her Babolat Pure Drive racket, Krizman plays with her teammates in mind.
“I call her my equalizer, my enforcer, simply because if something needs to be said, if one of the players needs to step up as far as holding someone accountable, she’s not afraid to do it,” Thomson said. “Manca is a leader more through her actions than her words. She leads by being at practice early, being one of the last ones to leave, her discipline and her commitment on the court, her work ethic.”
Despite approaching graduation early, the end of Krizman’s Drake career remains promising.
“I tell her everyday, it’s just doing the small things and getting big results,” Thomson said. “I think if she continues to work on her fitness and her court position, she knows when something’s not working right, how to make an adjustment. She’s been around for a while. She’s one I that can just kind of wind up and push out there and let go most times.”
For freshman teammate Amanda Dick, Krizman’s winning work ethic is motivating both on and off the court.
“She works hard all the time, so it always makes you want to work hard,” Dick said. “She’s a team player, and she cheers on everybody else as well, so on the court and off the court she’s always contributing to the team in some way or another.”
Besides her team-oriented mindset, Krizman’s 2012 season record is impossible to ignore.
The Solkan, Slovenia-native owns a 29-3 singles record in the 2012 campaign, including a three-set triumph over Marie-Pier Huet of then-No. 25 Oklahoma on Jan. 21.
Paired with senior Gabby Demos, Krizman also boasts a 24-9 doubles record.
Krizman’s winning streak adds to her already influential position, Dick said.
“Besides the fact that she’s winning like no other, she’s obviously a leader on the court because she has been kicking butt, and she pushes us to work harder and she cheers us on,” Dick said. “She leads more by example than anything else because she shows what we should be doing.”
For Krizman, leading by example isn’t limited to tennis.
One practice, Krizman introduced the Bulldogs to “Ai Se Eu Te Pego,” a popular Brazilian dance tune by Michel Telo.
“Manca said, ‘Everybody in Europe knows the dance’ and just started dancing in the middle of practice,” Dick said.
Now, the ditty routinely plays on Drake’s practice mix tapes, Dick said.
Alongside her noteworthy dancing skills, Krizman is committed to Drake’s leadership.
“Each one of us is a leader in a different way, so we don’t have really a specific one, so I think that’s a good thing that everyone has to step up,” Krizman said. “It can’t just be one person, but if we all step up, I have a feeling that we are capable of doing a lot of things.”
Although only a junior, Krizman will don her cap and gown in May and receive her bachelor’s degree in psychology. After graduation, she plans to pursue internships and, eventually, graduate school in the U.S.
Before Krizman walks across the Knapp Center stage, though, she looks to finish her Drake women’s tennis career on a triumphant note.
“We have a really good record, so we are going to try to keep it up,” Krizman said. “Also, those teams that we played that are kind of challenging for us — we’re going to try to really be very prepared for those matches and maybe have this little twist and beat them.”
Tough MVC rivals loom in Drake’s forecast, but Krizman will walk into the Roger Knapp Tennis Center with determination.
Before stepping confidently onto the blue hard courts, she’ll view the framed image decorating the women’s tennis locker room.
Novak Djokovic won’t fit the frame, though.
Instead, eight familiar faces will accompany Krizman into MVC battle.
“I like playing as a team, even though it’s individual sport,” Krizman said. “The best part is that even when it gets tough, you have your team once again.”