Inside the Dolphin Tank
By Jean Baak
On October 29, 2014, the College of Staten Island Women’s Tennis team earned the title of CUNYAC Champions two years in a row (2013-2014). The accomplished title qualified the players to participate in the Nationals sometime this May.
Fifth singles and first doubles player Michelle Kushnir, a 19 year old sophomore, whose winning match was the deciding point for the 2014 championship against Hunter College, shares her insecurities, newfound hope and motto for the upcoming season.
The Banner (TB): Last October, you were the clear decision-maker of the 2014 CUNY Championship. Do you still reflect on it?
Michelle Kushnir (MK): At first I didn’t like to think about the win–it brought too much emotion. Now when I think about it, will I be able to do it again if need be? Any important match [that is]. Will I be able to pull through for my team again? The championship match gave me a really high standard.
TB: What did you learn from winning the Championship for your team?
MK: Consistency is key.
TB: How have your teammates’ opinions of you changed?
MK: The women remind me of the win. They say, “You won us the whole championship.” Now they see that I take the sport seriously.
TB: What is your role heading into the spring season before nationals?
MK: The underdog.
TB: What is your greatest weakness?
MK: My backhand is weak – I barely get it over the net. I’m not as adaptable in playing situations as our captain, Sabrina, who is more versatile. I’m scared that my opponent will detect my weak point right away.
TB: How do you plan to improve your overall game?
MK: I know that I’ve had a successful practice when I pretty much just pass out when I’m done. I push myself until I can’t play anymore. I feel like that’s the only way you can improve. Just keep going. The second you get cocky, or you think you’re good – that’s where the improvement stops.
TB: How do you hope the team will step up at nationals?
MK: To be united and communicate more effectively during games.
TB: What do you admire most about your teammates?
MK: All of my teammates are just as passionate about tennis as I am. They say, “I need to work on this. I need to work on that. I need to get better.” They never want to stop improving. They have the passion to improve.
TB: How much faith do you have that CSI will get through the first round [or] win the Nationals?
MK: We have a good chance of getting through the first round – it’s possible. Winning Nationals is less possible, but considering what happened at our CUNYAC championship, anything could happen. I didn’t expect to win that day, but I did. In tennis, the tiniest things affect everything. It’s a very unpredictable game. It’s not just about talent. It’s whether or not you’re focused, or if you’re having a good “tennis” day–if you can’t get the serve in right or if your opponent gets a cramp. You just never know who’ll win.
TB: Do you have anything left to prove after winning Champs?
MK: To keep getting better for myself and the team, improving backhand and learning how to have a better mindset while I’m playing.
TB: What is your M.O.?
MK: I step on the court and I hit. I figure out my opponent’s weaknesses. I do not think when I play. I notice things, and I go into fight mode. Always be aggressive. Be assertive.
TB: What is the most enjoyable aspect of playing tennis?
MK: I am fully comfortable with myself in tennis. You can use so much mental, emotional and physical power. You’re by yourself and you’re doing so much. It’s like a struggle that you need to get through on your own. It’s like a constant battle to overcome every time I play a match. When I win, it’s an adrenaline rush. When I lose, it’s motivation to win the next time. I’ve never had that type of feeling with any other sport. It’s like I become a different person when I’m on the court. I feel powerful – like I can do anything.