STANFORD, CA – One of the biggest strengths Nelly Ciolkowski brings to the Clemson women’s tennis team is her mental toughness.
No more was that apparent than in the sophomore’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 come-from-behind victory over Arkansas’ Kate Lukomskaya at last week’s Arkansas Regional. Her mental edge allowed her to clinch the Tigers’ trip to Stanford, CA and to the Sweet 16 thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Razorbacks. It will be Clemson’s fifth straight appearance in the Sweet 16 round, where it will face No. 2 national seed Florida at 3 p.m. (EST) on Friday.
“It really pumped me up,” Ciolkowski said following Wednesday’s practice at Stanford University. “It really made me happy to give our team the victory and bring us here to San Francisco.”
It pumped Ciolkowski up because at first she thought her match would go unrecorded when she saw teammate Klara Vyskocilova win the first set of her match at flight three with Clemson already in front 3-1.
“Caroline (Magnusson) was still on and I was watching Klara. I was starting my first set and Klara was up so I was actually cheering for her. I really thought she would have finished, but then I saw she lost,” Ciolkowski said. “After that, I got pumped up. Then all of my teammates came to my court and started supporting me.
“That really got me going. I played really good after that and I finished strong.”
Once Ciolkowski realized the match laid in her hands, she did more than finish strong – she turned it up another notch. After finding out Vyskocilova went down, Ciolkowski dominated her match at flight four.
“Nelly is a very dangerous player,” Clemson Head Coach Nancy Harris said. “Her greatest strength is her mental (toughness) and her desire to win. She is just a fighter and it really came through for her.”
Ciolkowski has fought hard to garner a 24-14 record in singles as she heads into Friday’s Sweet 16 round. Touted as one of the ACC’s up and coming players in the preseason, the native of Neuilly-Plaisance, France is starting to live up to those expectations.
“She came through like the champ that she is,” Harris said. “That’s why the coaches gave her that recognition. She only lost five matches last year and has played the three and the four this year very solidly.
“It was a great thing to see her do what she did at Arkansas.”
Ciolkowski said it was even better to celebrate it with her teammates.
“I love clinching those kinds of matches,” she said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. I had fun, and I played to win.”
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