Having goals and using milestones as a way to strive for something greater is often seen in the best athletes.
Long Beach State women’s tennis sophomore Wiktoria Rutkowska is a prime example of an athlete consistently working to improve. She progressively gets better over the course of a season. In her freshman year, her progress resulted in three Big West Conference accolades: Big West Freshman of the Year and All-Big West First Team in singles and doubles.
“First we won [the] Big West [tournament] and then I got these titles, it’s too many titles,” Rutkowska joked after her final match of the 2018-19 season. “[Winning the awards] felt really cool…it gives me more motivation [for next season].”
That next season has begun, and the motivation to improve still resonates within Rutkowska. Her preseason began at the UNLV Fall Invitational, where she finished third place in singles and strung together some doubles wins with sophomore teammate Emma Bardet.
Most recently in the Beach Invitational, Rutkowska had the chance to show off her skills at home at the Rhodes Tennis Center. The first day of the tournament was another successful outing for Rutkowska.
Rutkowska has shown a level of maturity on the court, having cleaned up most of the mistakes that plagued her last year. She has become a true tone-setter for matches using her technical skills and talent to outplay opponents
“You see people come back and they want to replicate [what they did last year] or they want to exceed it,” head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello said. “Last year was great, it was wonderful…but this is a new year and we have to start building from today [onward].”
Since last season, Rutkowska said her freshman nerves have washed away and knows her game has improved as she has gained experience.
“We’re in good shape because of last year’s [run],” she said.
Rutkowska has shown her improved hitting strength, with a high-velocity shot that positions the ball perfectly towards the baseline of the court, making it hard for opponents to react. Last season, she was not as consistent with the same technique as her shots often hit the net.
Another key improvement for Rutkowska has been controlling unforced errors, which has helped with her attitude.
She said she still angrily critiques herself after a bad play, but the effects don’t linger around as much. Last year she had a tendency to get down on herself after mistakes.
Nowadays, Rutkowska’s play coincides with the frame of mind that coach Hilt-Costello has, always lifting up her spirits with a “tough, Wiktoria,” or an uplifting, “good job, Wiktoria.”
The words of encouragement do not always bring about winning plays, but it does help with the effort, which is why Hilt-Costello finds it important to empower her players.
“We want them to feel strong, positive and empowered, even when we are talking about their weaknesses or other things we need to address,” Hilt-Costello said.
This positivity is what allows Rutkowska to take calculated risks and take shots that may not be by the book. It’s why she charges the net when possible, trying to apply pressure in ways besides her powerful shot.
This move can have a tendency to backfire, as opponents use lobs to counterattack. At the Beach Invitational Rutkowska found a way to neutralize the lob by fully utilizing her six-foot frame.
Her success early on is just the start, Rutkowska said she wants to build off each match and continue to strive for perfection with her serves, hits and communication.
“This year I want to achieve more if I can,” Rukowska said. “I feel [the pressure] because it’s not easy to have the same accomplishments from one year to another.”