Paulina Petriskova knew all eyes were on her court in the decisive match of a duel with a nationally ranked opponent.
But with players and coaches from Kentucky and her Hawaii teammates crowding around the fence, the increased attention didn’t add to the tension of the moment.
“It gives me more energy to fight and it just shows me the whole team really cares about me because we play for the team not individual winning,” Petriskova said
Petriskova indeed delivered for the team by finishing off a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4 win over Kentucky’s Edmee Morin-Kougoucheff to cap the Rainbow Wahine tennis team’s 4-3 comeback win over the 29th-ranked Wildcats on Tuesday at the UH Tennis Complex.
“I did it for the team and seeing all these girls and coaches cheering for me, it just gives me smile on my face which makes me more loose,” said Petriskova, after playing her first match since October.
A cyst in her foot caused a stress fracture which kept her sidelined for most of the fall and jeopardized her spring. But Petriskova, a junior from Slovakia, recovered in time to provide the decisive point in a rousing opener for the Wahine program.
“The doctors said ‘maybe you’re not going to play in the season.’ So I’m really glad I can be back and compete,” Petriskova said.
After being swept by No. 2 Duke and No. 7 California in the Rainbow Wahine Spring Invitational last week on Maui, UH fell behind Kentucky 3-1 before pulling off the upset in their first dual match of the season.
Kentucky won all three doubles matches to claim the first point and quickly won two singles matches with Viktoria Malova earning UH’s first point with a 6-3, 6-3 win.
UH senior Martina Kostalova then pulled out a three-set win and Cindy Nguyen gave the Wahine another point with a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (7), 6-0 win over Nadia Ravita.
Petriskova and Morin-Kougoucheff were the last two players still on the court and the Wahine could finally celebrate when a Morin-Kougoucheff shot landed wide on match point.
“I’m proud of the girls, how they competed and they just keep grinding,” UH coach Jun Hernandez said. “We were down early but they kept fighting.”
While Hernandez called Tuesday’s victory “one of the best wins in our program,” the Wahine have sizable challenges ahead when they play host to No. 25 Ole Miss on Friday and No. 43 Washington on Sunday. UH also has a home match scheduled against No. 16 Michigan on March 6.
“We’re not done,” Hernandez said. “We have big goals and we’re just starting.”
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranks the top 75 teams in the nation with Long Beach State the top Big West team at No. 41 and UC Irvine at No. 72.