Celebrating at the Michigan Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor, Margarita Sadovnikova and the Youngstown State University women’s tennis team received the program’s first-ever Horizon League Championship.
Sadovnikova looked at the trophy, which is plastered with the conference’s past winners. The University of Illinois at Chicago is on there every year since 1996. Sadovnikova, who was recruited five years ago, only had one thing on her mind.
“Finally, we made history,” she said.
Sadovnikova ultimately clinched the title with the final wins against Cleveland State University on Sunday and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday.
“I still cannot believe that we actually won,” Sadovnikova said. “I was the last one to finish it, but I think everyone put in great efforts. It’s not only me; it was the entire team.”
The Penguins defeated Wright State University, 4-0, to open its championship run on Friday. They then won, 4-3, against Milwaukee on Saturday and 4-2 over CSU on Sunday.
Sadovnikova defeated CSU’s Lauren Golick 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 in Sunday’s finale. She also won in the doubles competition along with Carolyn Jesko 8-3. Marta Burak, Dominika Lackova and Annina Brendel also earned victories in the singles competition. Burak and Lackova won their doubles competition as well as the team of Brendel and Nehel Sahni.
“My freshman year, we couldn’t make it because we didn’t have a full team,” junior Burak said. “Last year, we came really close. This year, we just did it.”
One man watching the Penguins capture the title was a guy very close to the team, and it was former head coach Mark Klysner who is the men’s tennis coach at Illinois State University.
“I can’t be happier for the girls,” Klysner said. “I wish I could be there in some aspects. We came very close last year, and I think that’s why I’m still very close to those players. It was a weird felling watching a team that you just left.”
Klysner was one of the first people contacted on Sunday. After Sadovnikova called her mother, Klysner was next.
“I wanted to share my emotions because I had him for two years,” Sadovnikova said. “He made a big impact in my life in different aspects. It was really nice to share my emotions with somebody I know.”
Klysner spent the last three seasons as the YSU men’s head coach and the past two years with the women as well. Last season, both programs combined for 28 wins. The men’s 13 victories were the most since the 1990-91 season while the women won its most dual matches since 1998-99.
When Klysner left, a change was in order. Rather than hiring a fresh face for the women’s and men’s teams, the Penguins stayed within the program and promoted Michael Sopel who was named head coach on Sept. 4. He was an assistant under Klysner last year.
“It was kind of different in the beginning because we were used to Klysner,” Burak said. “He’s been my coach for two years, but Mickael did a good job. He brought new recruits and good girls.”
Sopel helped Klysner lead the women’s team to the conference championship last season for the second time in school history. The men finished third for the second consecutive season.
“It was kind of a little surprising to us because we didn’t know that Mark would leave last year, but Mickael was our assistant coach,” Sadovnikova said. “We knew him before, and it wasn’t like a new person came in. He did great by brining in new girls that, obviously, put a lot of input into our team. That’s why we are where we are.”
With Sunday’s victory, the Penguins advance to the NCAA Championships that begin on May 9. The NCAA selection show is on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
The Penguins return to practice later this week. The women were given a few days off to catch up on schoolwork. In the meantime, the Penguins are proudly supporting their title with championship hats, showing YSU students and faculty members what they achieved.
Burak said she will definitely sport her hat for the next two days. Sadovnikova will do the same, although she doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“I don’t think we really need it because we’re surprised that a lot of people knew about it,” Sadovnikova said. “It feels really nice that these people care.”