Bacalla hopes to give Iowa women’s tennis a boost in 2020

After a breakout 2020 spring season, Michelle Bacalla is looking forward to helping the team be a top competitor in the Big Ten.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Michelle Bacalla hits a forehand during a women’s tennis match between Iowa and Nebraska at the HTRC on Saturday, April 13, 2019. The Hawkeyes, celebrating senior day, fell to the Cornhuskers, 4-2.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter


Hawkeye women’s tennis head coach Sasha Schmid took the reins of the Iowa program in July of 2016, and one of her first orders of business was to recruit Skokie, Illinois, native Michelle Bacalla.

In her two-year career at Iowa, Bacalla has a career singles record of 14-13 in dual matches and 23-20 overall. She also has a 6-10 doubles record in dual matches with a 3-2 record in conference.

“[Bacalla] is a really balanced tennis player, and she has a game that is pretty similar off of the forehand and backhand side,” Schmid said. “She also has really good movement, so she doesn’t have any deficiency in her game.”

Bacalla finished the shortened 2020 season with a 6-3 dual match singles record, a 1-0 record in-conference, and a four-match win streak before the rest of the season was canceled because of COVID-19.

Bacalla’s first season for the Hawkeyes in the spring of 2019 was not so glamorous, however. After playing in 18 of the Hawkeyes’ 25 matches, she finished with an 8-10 singles record and a 2-2 doubles record.

“She came in with a lot of what I call a junior tennis mentality, which is kind of self-deprecating and you can kind of be hard on yourself and be negative with yourself,” Schmid said. “That was holding her back as a freshman, especially in matches where she could beat an opponent from an athletic standpoint, but we were struggling to win the mental battle.”

While the start of Bacalla’s career was not as strong as she had hoped for, her confidence did not falter. She instead focused on improving the mental side of her game in order to put herself in a better position to succeed on the court.

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“After the first year, I was very humbled,” Bacalla said. “After having a lot of talks and a lot of matches where it didn’t go my way, I just had to self-reflect and really dig deep in finding out what the obstacles were holding me back from reaching the goals that I wanted.”

Not only did Bacalla come back and win matches during her breakout 2020 season, but she did so against opposing teams’ top players. Bacalla won two out of her three matchups at No. 4 and held a 4-2 record at the No. 3 spot in the lineup in 2020.

“Her confidence became organic and not by virtue of me telling her how good of a player she was,” Schmid said. “She was really embracing the challenge to play better players.”

Schmid said that Bacalla thrives on using her versatility and quickness along with an elite cross-court backhand in order to wear players down.

“Growing up, I was pretty small compared to all of the players in my area, so I really had to rely on every tool in the toolbox that I had to grind out these matches,” Bacalla said. “I really never had to focus on one stroke or one strategy at all, and I just tried to have as flexible a game as possible.”

The Hawkeye women’s tennis team finished with a 6-6 record last season and a 1-0 record in conference play.

In 2020, Bacalla and the Hawkeyes aim to reignite their success from last year.

“My expectations for this spring really are just as a team to win the Big Ten tournament, have an amazing record, and move on to the NCAA tournament,” Bacalla said. “Personally, I want to just build my game even more and not let the pandemic hold me back as much as I feel it would for any other player.”

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