Sophomores Kara Cecil, Fidan Manashirova and Gabby Steele have made their impact on the Ohio State women’s tennis program since day one. Manashirova struck first, winning her first collegiate tournament at the Kentucky Invitational in October of 2009 while Steele led the team in singles and doubles victories with 25 and 23, respectively, a year ago. Despite competing in only eight singles matches as a freshman, Cecil was the recipient of the Coaches Award for her endless enthusiasm and hard work throughout the year.

Cecil kept working hard to prepare for the 2010-11 season over the summer and climbed all the way to the No. 3 singles spot this year, while Steele and Manashirova have played mostly at the fourth and fifth spot, respectively. The trio has combined for 48 of Ohio State’s 99 singles victories this season, playing a large part in the success of the Buckeyes.

Fidan Manashirova
On her 14-match winning streak
“Winning streaks are something I think are better not to think about and not to count. I just try to take it one match at a time. When someone reminds me of the streak, then I start thinking, “now I’ve got to win every match.” Usually I’m trying to win every match I play without even thinking about streaks.”

On home matches
“People always ask me if I get nervous when a lot of people are watching us play. Honestly, the more people that come to our matches, the better. I love when people watch me play. I wouldn’t say it’s nerve-wracking, but it gives me the butterflies and pumps me up. Also, one of my biggest pet peeves about tennis is when people ask me what the team does during practice and assume we just play against each other every day. They don’t realize the hundreds of variations of drills we can do.”

On the transition from freshman to sophomore year
“Freshman year I was overwhelmed with schoolwork. The amount of tennis was something I was used to because I played five hours of tennis a day back home, but going to school, sitting in class, doing homework and taking tests are something I was unfamiliar with. I’ve adapted to it a little bit better this year. Also, living in my own room and not having loud kids in the halls of the dorms is nice. Tennis-wise, I know what to expect more this year. I was nervous before the opening doubleheader last year but this year I started off a bit better.”

Kara Cecil
On superstitions
“I don’t have many superstitions, but I have to shower every morning before a match, even if I showered the night before. Even if it’s a really early match, I’ll wake up early to take a shower. I also have a certain number of serves I have to hit during warm-ups before a match. I have to hit five on each side. I usually have three balls, which is an odd number, so I’ll have to switch sides before hitting the last ball in my hand. I also write verses on my shoes because I recite verses while I play. I recite at least part of one before every point. It keeps me sane during the match.”

On the transition from freshman to sophomore year
“I don’t have freshman forgiveness anymore. If I make a stupid mistake, I can’t blame it on me being a freshman. I have to be responsible for more things this year like picking up the freshmen and being more of a leader. The initial high of being a college student has worn off by now, too.”

On tennis players’ antics
“Tennis players that talk to themselves during matches are funny to watch because it looks like they are a little psychotic. When Paloma (Escobedo) talks to herself it’s in Spanish, so nobody knows what she’s saying so it makes it even funnier. It’s also funny when people say things that are completely ridiculous. They’ll start saying something but they lose their train of thought and don’t know how to finish the statement. It helps some people because it’s their way of letting their frustration out and not keep it bottled up. If that’s what it takes to win, then do it.”

Gabby Steele
On the transition from freshman to sophomore year
“Freshman year I was learning everything and didn’t really know what was going on. We all kind of had our heads in the clouds a little bit. This year I’m a little more organized and a little more aware of everything. It’s nice knowing what’s coming up, as far as tennis goes, learning how to prepare for doubleheaders and other parts of the season.”

On roadtrips
“Alabama was awesome because we had a lot of support down there. It was kind of like a family road trip. We weren’t with the team as much, but we bonded a lot with our host families and the teammate we roomed with. We ate a lot of food that I’ve never had before, like the southern sweet tea and barbeque.”

On pre-game warm ups
“We like a lot of dance music and upbeat, energetic warmup music. We like techno a lot. We pretty much do the same warmup every day. We hit with the same person and get a routine going. Some people are a little superstitious but I’m not with the warmup.”