Petra Melounova is no stranger to the national championships.
The University of Hawai‘i junior will be making her third trip to the NCAA Women’s Singles Championships from May 20 to 25 in Orlando, Florida. Melounova is the first player in UH history to qualify for the championship for three consecutive years.
“Obviously it’s a huge milestone,” Melounova said. “But I’m definitely going there with the idea in my mind that I want to win the whole thing.”
Qualifying for the NCAA championships for three straight seasons was not the only milestone for Melounova. This season, she played all of her matches on the No. 1 court and led UH with a 13-2 dual match record. Melounova also upset three ranked players – No. 34 Salma Ewing (No. 32 USC), No. 30 Julia Rosenqvist (No. 15 California) and No. 86 Maddie Pothoff (Santa Clara).
Melounova also earned her third-straight Big West player of the year award and finished the regular season nationally ranked at No. 61 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s poll.
She did this despite being unable to generate a full-power overhead swing due to past injuries. Melounova had to serve primarily underhand.
“Coming into this semester, I just really wanted to take one day at a time, do good one day at a time in practices, and see how it works out in matches,” Melounova said. “Especially with my kind of, disadvantage serving underhand, I would not even hope to do as good as I did.”
For head coach Jun Hernandez, finding and recruiting Melounova was pure luck. It all started with a recruiting trip to Europe over the summer.
“When I first saw her, I know that she’s capable of doing a lot of special things,” Hernandez said. “She’s very gifted, talented player. She can do all of things on the court that a lot of coaches would be really jealous of, to have that kind of player.”
As the highest-ranked Big West Conference player, Melounova is one of 15 players who earned their conference’s automatic bid. This is also the fifth time in the last six years that a UH player has earned the Big West’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Former Rainbow Wahine standout Cindy Nguyen went to the tournament twice in 2014-2015.
Hernandez said that Melounova has “blossomed as far as being even smart on the court.”
“One thing special about her is she hates to lose,” he said. “No matter what happens, she’s injured or not, she’ll be competing. She’ll be competing and she’ll be giving her best. As a coach, that’s the only thing you can ask for, to make sure that they do their best.”