MOLINE — Although her height at 6-foot-2 may be intimidating to her opponents, Moline tennis player Monika Birski can’t help but smile, especially after a strong start to her junior season.
In fact, her consistently positive attitude is another strength of hers as a versatile piece on coach Brooke Forsberg’s team.
And there’s reason for more optimism thanks to Birski’s solid start to the season.
Birski, this week’s Dispatch-Argus-QCOline Metro Pacesetter, is off to a 4-0 start in singles following Moline’s team title as invite hosts this past weekend.
The two-time state doubles qualifier — both times with classmate Lauren Myers — has served up a reminder that her game translates to one-on-one as well, something she focused on throughout the summer.
Birski’s first match of the year in a dual against United Township was a tightly-contested comeback win against sophomore Reese Williams 3-6, 7-6 (1), 10-6 on Sept. 3. Williams qualified for state singles last season, so the match was an early head-to-head look at two of the top players in the conference. Williams and Birski coincidentally both placed third in conference singles their freshman years.
Moline’s matchup against UT also came after its first tournament of the year at Springfield was cancelled.
“It was a great match and I tried as best I could to come back, and I did, so I’m very proud of that,” Birksi said. “No one likes to lose the first set like that, but I had to let it go. … I regained myself and started playing like I usually do.”
A stronger mental game is something coach Forsberg has noticed from Birksi that augments her physical presence.
While she is still keeping her lineup flexible down the line for singles and doubles, Forsberg is understandably optimistic with the prospect of Birski focusing on playing singles.
“Coming out and losing that first set was difficult, but I think it showed her drive and desire to win to come back and win that match,” Forsberg said. “Reese worked hard this last year and she’s playing a really strong game right now and is very competitive.”
Birksi added three more wins over the weekend, proudly dropping only three games, at the Moline invite, which the Maroons swept as a team with Alleman and Rock Island among the field.
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In addition to Birski’s singles title over the weekend, Man Dim was fourth in the No. 1 bracket for Moline. Kate Schaechter won No. 2 singles and Charis Wang was second. Myers and Sarah Gustafson took No. 1 doubles and Camille Keys and Matti Brown won No. 2 doubles to cap Moline’s strong weekend.
“I would like to win conference again,” Birski said. “Seeing how well everyone did as a team, it does give a lot of hope for the future.”
Birski’s preparation for this season featured a busy offseason.
She sharpened her game at the QC Tennis Club this summer, also traveling to as many USTA tournaments as she could playing singles and gaining confidence against tougher opponents. She was the No. 1 seed and won the title at the Muscatine Junior Open in July in Girls’ 16 Singles.
Another aspect of her evolving game is the adjustment of growing three inches since her freshman year. Adjusting her hitting mechanics and balance didn’t happen overnight, but the added wingspan has increasingly become a strength of hers.
She said her parents are athletic but did not play tennis competitively. Birski has been playing tennis since she was four years old, but has been skiing even longer.
In wintertime, she skis competitively with the Snowstar ski team traveling and competing in slalom.
Birski, who is Polish, is cousins with Moline grad Kacper Ryba, who qualified for state doubles his senior year the season before last with Dylan Wiemers.
She said her positivity is another strength within the team, whether during matches or encouraging teammates after she finishes her running. She credited her cousin, Ryba, for some of his excitement and positive energy also being an influence.
“You’ll never hear her say a negative thing about anyone,” Forsberg said. “Even if she plays an opponent who might be a little rougher around the edges or gives her a hard time, she never speaks down on them or has any negativity toward them. She stays positive and incorporates everyone on the team.”
Wherever she plays on the court, Birski’s versatility and positive approach to new challenges looks to be a successful combination.
“We’re going to see where it takes me," she said, "and how well I do.”