Although she has a sweet and quiet demeanor about her, Monica Robinson is settling perfectly into the Fighting Irish name on the tennis courts.
One of three freshmen on the 12-man roster, Robinson is a tiny spitfire on the court, known for her determined will, her fight and her competitiveness and has made a strong debut for the Blue and Gold.
Robinson and her double partner senior Jennifer Kellner pushed hard through the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Regional Championships on Oct. 13 in Ann Arbor, Mich., but fell in the quarterfinals to No. 1 seed Emina Bektas and Brooke Bolender of Michigan. Going in as the eighth seed, Robinson and Kellner defeated Sandy Niehaus and Gabriella DeSantis of Ohio State, 8-6 after a first round bye as well as defeated DePaul’s Patricia Fargas and Rebeca Mitrea, 8-4.
In the singles bracket, Robinson won her first match against Ohio State’s Sandy Niehausm 6-1, 6-4. She then took down Western Michigan’s Kathleen Hawkins, 6-2, 6-4 before dropping to the third seed, Michigan’s Ronit Yurovsky, 6-4, 6-4.
“I was nervous for my first tournament, but I think I played well and can only go up from here,” Robinson says.
Robinson has had to adjust to the higher level of competition, playing opponents who are a few years older and who are in their prime. But having Kellner as her tennis partner has given Robinson a slight advantage.
“Coming into college, it’s back to the bottom being the younger one playing,” Robinson explains. “Jenny has four years of experience and she has been helping me out with strategies. As a freshman, I didn’t really know what to expect and she definitely helped me out, giving me that older sister advice.”
Robinson was late in the recruiting game since the process was brand-new to her and her parents—the freshman is the only tennis player in the Robinson family. Yet the southern California native caught the eye of Notre Dame women’s tennis head coach Jay Louderback at the USTA National Open in Denver, Colo., where she was a finalist and earned the National Open Sportsmanship Award.
While on a flight to another tournament in Tennessee, Robinson received an email from Louderback saying he liked the way she played and was wondering if she would be interested in playing for Notre Dame.
“At the time, I didn’t know Notre Dame,” confesses Robinson, who was a top-20 player nationally in the 18s and had a 4.4 GPA at the time. “I knew the name but didn’t know where it was. It was really unexpected. It’s funny how things work out—like it’s destiny.”
Pepperdine, Texas Tech, Harvard and all of the San Diego area schools were already looking at Robinson, but one visit to South Bend during a home football game weekend started her Notre Dame adventure.
“I just really like the spiritual basis on the campus and of course the traditions. Football is big and I’ve always been a big football girl,” Robinson says. “And I’m experiencing a new atmosphere—I’ve never been through a real winter.”
While she will have to adjust to the colder weather very soon, Robinson has had to adjust playing indoors, something she wasn’t used to in sunny California.
Playing outdoors brings on environmental affects such as wind and sun. Players tend to have a higher net clearance on the ball and move back off the baseline to give themselves more time to adjust to wind. In indoor play, echoes and lights can affect a predominately outdoor player, and players hit flatter, have a more linear ball shape and can get away with standing closer to the baseline and being more aggressive.
So it’s been a relatively easy adjustment for Robinson thanks to her aggressiveness and play ability.
“Monica is a very fast and athletic player. She is a very good counterpuncher with the ability to be more aggressive,” Louderback explains. "We’ve done much better here at Notre Dame with kids who play more of an all-around game. She can really do pretty much anything."
Robinson’s favorite things about being a Notre Dame tennis player so far have been the camaraderie with her teammates, all of the Notre Dame adidas gear and everything she has learned so far in her classes (she hasn’t chosen a major yet and enrolled in First Year Studies). And while the individuality of the game is what originally piqued Robinson’s interest, it’s the team aspect that has fueled her own game.
“It’s a team now,” she says. “Coming from the Junior tournaments, you played for yourself. Here, you have to sometimes put aside yourself. You can lose a match but at the end of the day, you have to cheer on your teammates. It’s just great because when I’m out there, I want to win for them.”
Robinson hopes to qualify for the NCAA Championships and make an impact in the draw, but her ultimate goal is to be an All-American and win the NCAA championships both as a team and individually.
And her coaches have the upmost confidence in the young, energetic Fighting Irish player.
"She hasn’t played that long nationally," Louderback allows. "We really feel like she’s got a long way she can still go."