March 12, 2002
By Mike Kreiger
Turn back the clock to March 4, 2002. The Washington State women's tennis team is playing Brigham Young Provo, Utah. WSU is ranked No. 27, while BYU is ranked 52nd in the country.
The score is tied 3-3. Only one singles match remains, and whoever wins will earn a victory not only for themselves, but for their nationally ranked team as well.
Enter Nora Gaal, a 5-foot-3 freshman dynamo from Szekesfehervar, Hungary. Gaal is scheduled to play BYU's Nicole Schneider. Both players knew the importance of their match, but only one would come away victorious. It was winner-take-all at this point.
'It was really exciting,' said Gaal. 'Schneider was very good. I wasn't afraid but I was a little nervous because it was really important for the team.'
Gaal took care of business and won 6-4, 6-2 over Schneider. The win was the fourth consecutive victory for Washington State, but most of the credit went to the shortest player on the team.
'Nora played a very good match for us,' said WSU coach Cari Groce. 'She started playing very well and she just cruised through her match.'
The win was huge for Gaal, and she was glowing afterwards.
'I was so happy to beat her,' Gaal said with a smile like a kid in the candy store. 'It was a great feeling. We celebrated and had ice cream.'
A Hungarian native, Gaal has fallen in love with Pullman, but she still misses some of her favorite things from home.
'I really like Pullman,' said the cinema-loving freshman. 'The athletic department here is great and I really like the community. But I miss the food. American food is hard for me to get used to.'
Gaal is very close with her family. Her father Zoltan is an engineer and her mother Agota Blum is an insurance agent. Gaal's older brother, Peter, is also a tennis player in Hungary. Despite the distance Gaal is from her family, she stays in touch daily.
'I miss my family but I email them every day,' Gaal said. 'My parents call me after each competition and they check the website to see how we did.'
Coach Groce likes how the team is meshing, especially since this is such a young team (one senior, three sophomores and four freshmen).
'Our team is really coming together,' Groce said. 'Our freshmen are getting the feel for dual matches and winning has really helped their confidence.'
Despite the youth, WSU maintains a national ranking. Not only are the Cougars ranked, but the freshmen group is also very close and they push each other to achieve more.
'We are all good friends,' said the 19-year-old Gaal. 'We are from all over the world (Mexico, Hungary, Yugoslavia). We have very different personalities but we mix well. That's why we're successful.'
Success is the keyword for the Cougars this season. With only one upperclassman on the team, Washington State is looking for freshmen like Gaal to step up and play at a Division I level. Gaal has responded, and if there are any questions, just look at her match against BYU.