Former Porter-Gaud star Mi’Kola Cooper has a newfound confidence since playing such a vital role in Charleston Southern’s Big South Conference regular season-championship in women’s tennis.
That confidence couldn’t have surfaced at a better time as the Bucs (15-2) get ready for Friday’s 10 a.m. Big South tournament semifinal against Liberty.
“Mi’Kola has really stepped up and been a reliable force in our lineup,” veteran CSU coach Mike Baker said.
Cooper and partner Angelica Sidorenko have won 15 of their last 17 No. 1 doubles matches, including an 8-3 win over Gardner-Webb on Thursday that helped the Bucs sweep all three positions to claim the doubles point in a 4-0 CSU victory in the tournament quarterfinals at Asheville, N.C.
“Both in singles and in doubles, Mi’Kola has proven to be a crucial part of our team success this season. Her focus in practice and matches has greatly improved this year which has allowed her to have a very special year,” Baker said.
Cooper was ahead, 6-4, 2-1, at No. 3 singles against Gardner-Webb’s Stina Magnusson when the Bucs wrapped up Thursday’s victory. A transfer from Morgan State, Cooper has gone 13-4 in singles this season as a junior.
She credits Baker with playing a major role in her improvement. “I like to hit winners,” said the hard-hitting junior who has been named to the all-conference doubles team.
“But Coach Baker taught me not only to win, but to make it difficult for my opponents where they don’t want to play me again. That’s by staying in the point longer and coming to the net more. I go for big shots more now and not just for the lines.”
A former All-Lowcountry player who played one season for Morgan State before transferring to CSU for her sophomore year, Cooper is happy being close enough to home that her family and friends can watch her play. “I was homesick (in Baltimore). I rarely got to come home. Plus, it was cold,” she said.
The former national Arthur Ashe Essay Contest winner as a teenager hopes that her aggressive style of play will help her when she tests the next level of tennis.
“I have a newfound confidence in my game and I am hoping that can carry over. I am looking to play some pro tournaments this summer,” she said, mentioning in particularly pro satellite events at Hilton Head Island and Sumter.
Superb athletic ability, heavy top-spin groundstrokes and a big overhead are some of the reasons that make Cooper’s game so impressive. She delivered a combined seven aces in her singles and doubles matches against Gardner-Webb.
Cooper has learned to harness the power she demonstrated so well while leading Porter-Gaud to a state championship as a senior.
“I like to hit top-spin. The girls don’t like to play balls that bounce up high,” she said.
The 20-year-old criminal justice major is “very happy” playing college tennis for the Bucs. “Our team is bonded. We go out to dinner on Fridays to keep a family atmosphere” she said.
And, yes, Cooper thinks the Bucs can pull off a tournament championship feat.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com.