Behind the Scenes with Nina Pantic

MUTIGERS.COM Former Mizzou tennis player Nina Pantic will provide fans with a behind the scenes glimpse into the tennis team all season
Former Mizzou tennis player Nina Pantic will provide fans with a behind the scenes glimpse into the tennis team all season

Sept. 25, 2012

Former Mizzou tennis player Nina Pantic, who is finishing up her master's degree at Missouri, will travel with the Tigers all year and give fans a behind the scenes glipse into the team.

Despite the usual rarity of aces in women's tennis, Missouri tennis hit an impressive 45 while hosting the Aces for the Cure Invitational at The Plaza Tennis Center in Kansas City on Sept. 21-23. Pledges were collected for ace hit and proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation's breast cancer research.

As the first tournament of the fall season, Missouri's team of six was all sorts of nervous, excited and motivated to compete. Day one's highlight was Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Elisha Gabb's 8-6 upset over the No. 14-ranked Oklahoma State team of Kanyapat Narattana and Malika Rose. Junior Gaytan-Leach ended the tournament as the No.2 singles winner and No. 1 doubles winner (with Gabb), while freshman Madison Rhyner won at the No. 6 spot.

During Day two, the team grinded through both doubles and singles matches. With bodies hurting and minds tiring all anyone could think about was dinner at Houston's. Just as it looked like the coaches would be the last to arrive to dinner, assistant coach Jason Potthoff managed to expertly parallel park the team van steps away from the restaurant. He's the designated team driver to every tournament and shoulders the responsibility of chauffeuring around seven often loud and rambunctious women. The only solace for Potthoff was the team's only other male presence, Jonathan Strope, who is the team manager and go-to muscle man for all the very heavy tennis ball lifting.

With family members and guests the seating party at dinner was an impressive 20. Covering three tables, the entrees all looked phenomenal but the fan favorite was french fries and spicy mayo, while the most controversial choice was Maria Christensen's very, very rare steak. Apparently raw meat is a normal dish out in her home country of Denmark. Head coach Sasha Schmid collected everyone together for a group photo after dinner and gave an inspirational speech ending with a loud MIZ-ZOU chant.



Getting stopped on the street by Missouri fans is just a day in the life and happens frequently, especially at airports. But when we went shopping on the Plaza, one team member got confronted for an even more flattering reason. Two people ran up to tell Gaytan-Leach that she looked like Megan Fox. Being compared to one of the hottest Hollywood A-listers is just a day in the life of a Missouri tennis member. Oddly enough the only person to dent their bank account during the shopping excursion was not a female. The always-stylish coach Potthoff bought shirts and hoodies galore from Urban Outfitters, and finally solved the mystery of how he manages to look so good everyday.

The final day of the tournament saw Rhyner seal her first college singles win over Tulsa's Belen Rivera, 6-3, 6-4. The Kansas City native grew up playing on the same Plaza Tennis Center courts the tournament was hosted on and had a big posse of family and friends to support her. Her success may also be attributed to the positive energy coming from the court beside her via Alex Clark. The 17-year-old Brit brings her outgoing, vivacious personality to the court and throws her entire body into cheers of "Yeah!" and "Come-on!"

Living through the highs and lows of the team's first tournament calls attention to the more important things in life, like who will be the D.J. on the ride home? Music choice for van rides turns into a battle comparable to Obama versus Romney. Half the team listens strictly to rap and hip-hop and will not tolerate anything else. The other half prefers country and rock music. Almost everyone owns Beats headphones.Regardless, screams of indignation still filled the van whenever a rap music lover takes off her Beats long enough to hear a Jason Aldean or Zac Brown Band lyric.

As expected, the team has many talents outside of tennis. Gabb and Rachel Stuhlmann can do a lot more with tennis balls than just play tennis. The duo showed off circus level synchronized juggling during one of many warm ups. Gaytan-Leach boasts of an impressive golf game that could potentially challenge for a spot on the golf team, and Stuhlmann's artwork is proudly displayed at the Green Tennis Center.

Fans still have time to pledge money for all of the 113 aces hit at the Aces for the Cure Invitational. Find out more by clicking HERE.

Next up for Missouri tennis is the Riviera ITA All-American tournament in Los Angeles on Sept. 29.

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