Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Adjusting to the pace of college athletics can be difficult for any incoming freshman. Most will take a full season to finally be able to keep up with the step-up in competition. But for Kansas State freshman tennis player Petra Niedermayerova it was never a big deal. She has stepped into the limelight in Manhattan. She has already left her mark in the record books and still has three more years to add to her legacy.
Hailing from Brno, Czech Republic, Niedermayerova continues a recruiting pipeline for longtime Wildcat head coach Steve Bietau. With a history of successful players from the European country, K-State always seemed to be the final destination. She is 10th player from the small Eastern European country to play for Bietau, who is in the midst of his 27th season at the school.
"I had some connections here," said Niedermayerova. "We have another Czech player on the team (Petra Chuda) and the assistant coach (Olga Klimova) comes from the Czech Republic. She comes from the same town and same tennis club as I do, so I knew her before coming here. She would always give me some papers about K-State, so I checked into it and I felt like it would be a good place for me."
Prior to coming to K-State, Niedermayerova gained a wealth of playing experience playing in her homeland. In singles play, she compiled a 162-52 record and a 92-36 record in doubles play. She was even ranked as high as 29th in the Czech Republic in her junior season. Some may think that this experience has paved the way for her successful year, but Bietau thinks the opposite.
"It has nothing to do with her coming from overseas," Bietau said. "I think it is incredible for a freshman to play the way she does. The maturity level and the things that she figures out while playing and practicing are way above what you typically see in college tennis."
Heading into the season, the Wildcats were looking to build off of a strong 2010 campaign.
"We did the appropriate preparation in the fall semester to get ready for the season," said Niedermayerova. "We did a lot of conditioning, we practiced, and we improved our technique on the court, so I think the preparations from last semester contributed to the success that I have had this season. It was not just my successes, it was the whole team's because we beat Baylor, which was an incredibly success, not just for us, but for everybody who knows Big 12 tennis."
The start of her historic season began with an upset of Georgia's Nadja Gilchrist, who was ranked #67 in the nation at the time. That win would be the launching-point as Niedermayerova would go on to finish the season with a record of 24-9.
"This season was very promising from the beginning; the first two tournaments," said Niedermayerova. "I played some good matches and I won against ranked opponents, in Georgia and Iowa for example. I was excited to start Big 12 play and to see if I could keep up with those results and it ended up well. I won a majority of the matches, so the whole season was very consistent on a high level."
Bietau has been impressed with the work ethic that Niedermayerova has brought to the K-State tennis program, so he is not surprised with the success the she has had.
"It is a combination of maturity and a lot of things that she learned before she got here," said Bietau. "It is interesting during the year where she will be playing somebody who is pretty good and it looks like they are having a bad day. But then she will be playing somebody else who is good that looks like they are having a bad day and you start to see this pattern develop and you realized that there are things about her that make her special, but they are not really obvious things."
Coaches preach that you play like you practice. In the case of Niedermayerova, that is not the case. In fact, it is the complete opposite for her and Bietau notices it in practice.
"It is interesting when you watch practice; whoever is practicing with her is usually practicing better," said Bietau. "I have had various people who know tennis come to practice and try to figure out who our best player is and watching them hit and warm-up, it is not obvious. But when she gets in the matches, things are different. She does not waste opportunities. She does not give you any easy points, you have to work for points and the process of doing that over and over again just wears on her opponents. She is just a very smart player."
Niedermayerova has placed her name in K-State history with her successful first year. She finished as the Big 12 champion at the No. 1 singles position with a 9-2 record, which is a first for the school. Her winning percentage of .727 ranks third in school history. She also qualified for the NCAA Championships for singles competition and is the first Wildcat to make the field in nine years.
Not only has she accomplished a number of first for K-State, she has also garnered national accolades. She was named Big 12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. She is only the second student-athlete to earn those honors. The only other athlete was Baylor's Zuzana Zemenova in 2005. She was also named the ITA Central Region Rookie of the Year.
No matter how she finishes at the NCAA Championships, Niedermayerova has already had the best season in recent K-State history. She has added many personal awards to her collection and will look to continue her winning ways next season. She may have caught everyone off guard this year, but next year everyone will know who she is and the level of competition that she competes at. She welcomes the challenge with open arms.