Big 12 Campus Correspondent
For Malika Rose, it has always been about working her way up to the top, especially with tennis.
Rose, a junior at Oklahoma State, got her first taste of tennis when she was 6 years old. Her father, a tennis pro at Midtown Tennis Club in Manhattan, N.Y., put a racket in her hand, and she has been playing ever since, she said.
Rose began practicing with different academies all over the state of New York as she became more skilled at the sport. At 12, she and her family moved to Miramar, Fla., to play tennis year-round and seek out more opportunities. As her coach, her father took her to tournaments around the country in an effort to improve her game.
Playing tennis 24/7 does take its toll. In 2008, Rose suffered a back injury due to overplaying, she said. As a result, she missed out on several recruiting opportunities. However, that didn't stop her from looking.
"It's probably the most important year when it comes to recruiting, and I missed that year," she said. "I took a year off to give myself time to scout, and I was looking at Vanderbilt and Fresno State along with a few other schools."
In the summer of 2009, at a tournament in St. Joseph, Mo., Rose met Cowgirl tennis coach Chris Young. At the time, Young was the women's tennis coach at Wichita State University. The two exchanged contact information for a possible recruit visit. Weeks later, Young shared with Rose news of him moving to Oklahoma State to coach tennis and invited her to take a campus tour.
After visiting OSU, Rose narrowed down her options.
"It was between OSU and Vanderbilt," she said. "My dad really wanted me to go to Vanderbilt for the academics, but I wanted to go to OSU because of the coaching staff. It was a tough decision."
Rose decided on Oklahoma State and enrolled in the spring of 2010, making her Young's first recruit at OSU.
Just three days after arriving to OSU, Rose played in her first collegiate dual match against Arkansas at No. 5 singles. She went on to have a season she was expected to have, she said.
The next fall, the OSU coaching staff brought in C.C. Sardinha, a transfer from Syracuse, and Kanyapat "Meaw" Narattana, a freshman from Thailand.
Rose thought there would be no place for her in the starting lineup.
"I was competing for my spot because we had two extra girls," she said. "The lineup wasn't looking too good for me."
She stared the challenge in the face and spent her sophomore season making her way up the lineup. At the start of the spring season, Rose went back and forth playing at positions No. 5 and 6. Rose cruised along the first half of the season undefeated so Young moved her to the No. 4 spot for the Tulsa match. There was still no stopping her.
"I played an ex-teammate from Oklahoma State," Rose said. "There was a lot of pressure in that match. Beating her playing No. 4 for the first time was pretty memorable. After that, I just kept winning."
With the Cowgirls' home opener against Baylor approaching and Rose sitting on a solid 12-0 record, she was bumped up another spot and played the No. 3 position. It was her first loss of the season. She continued to play No. 3 and finished her 2011 spring campaign with a 16-6 overall record.
It was no shock that Rose had climbed her way up to competing at No. 2 singles to start the 2011-12 season.
"My junior year, I came in with high expectations because I had such a good sophomore season," Rose said. "Coach put me at No. 2, and I've been playing it ever since."
The junior has delivered a season worth talking about. Rose's performance this season has decided many doubles points, match decisions and even a bid to the NCAA tournament.
On April 22, 2012, she did all three of those things in the regular season finale when Oklahoma State defeated then-No. 6 Texas for the first time in more than 20 years.
Rose and doubles partner, Narattana, sealed the doubles point for the Cowgirls to start the day, giving OSU the advantage going into singles.
The match decision came down to the No. 2 singles court where Rose took Noel Scott to a third set. After being down, 2-0, Rose gave the crowd an exciting show winning six games in a row to take the set and the match.
OSU's win over Texas boosted the Cowgirls to a No. 37 ranking and a spot in the NCAA Championship.
"Definitely the win against Texas would be the biggest accomplishment this season," Rose said. "It was pretty dramatic and one of the best wins I've ever had."
Not only has Rose improved her singles game, she has also brought her doubles game to a new level.
"I think her doubles play is probably what has improved most out of anything," Young said. "She'll be the first to tell you that when she came here, she wasn't used to playing doubles. She wasn't comfortable at the net and now watching her play, she's very active, knows where she needs to be and puts herself in a good spot."
Young said Rose has been a big part of the program's quick turn-around.
"She's helped really turn around our program, and I think that's important," Young said. "I'm proud of Malika for her development. This season has been a marker for her improvement since she came here. She's been through each stage of development, and she has an understanding of herself, what's expected of her and what's expected of the team."
Rose is thankful for the opportunity she has been given, and she knows she has the opportunity to make even more of an impact on the Cowgirl program.
"It's kind of sad knowing that next year will be my last season, but overall my experience has been great and I'm looking forward to my final memories as a Cowgirl," Rose said. "I think if I work hard and I stay dedicated then I can achieve big things."