Brooks: Milewski Making Most Of Extra Season
BOULDER - As a kid, Monica Milewski had trouble identifying the source of her father's tennis knowledge. Growing up in a small farm town in Poland, he played soccer. But as far as his daughter knew, tennis' finer points and Zbigniew Milewski were total strangers.
That's one of two childhood questions that has been answered in time for her to finish her tennis career at Colorado and close in on the school record for combined singles/doubles victories.
The answer to the other question came in one of those brother-sister epiphanies that sometimes occur, but often don't. This one did, finally and joyously telling her whether she and David, her older brother by four years, could ever converse without snarling - which for the longest time at their home in Park Ridge, Ill., didn't seem possible.
The answer: Yes, they can. But reaching that truce took time. Affirmation came from an injury that removed Milewski from coach Nicole Kenneally's lineup for most of last season and for a while had Milewski thinking the worst.
"When I didn't know I'd have the option (of using a redshirt and competing this year), I was pretty bummed out that my college career was going to end that way," Milewski said. "But when Nicole asked if I'd be interested in doing a redshirt, I knew I'd be interested."
As a junior in 2008, Milewski was one of three players to be unanimously selected by the league's coaches for their All-Big 12 Conference team. But during the fall season of her senior year, she developed (and initially dismissed) a problem in her right foot.
At the time, Milewski also was having some minor back issues, which she had experienced since high school. She believed her back took precedence over her foot, got treatment for her back and played on - until she couldn't. With her foot getting progressively worse, she participated in one spring match last season.
Milewski's injury finally was diagnosed as a previous stress fracture that had healed wrong. Surgery was performed on Valentine's Day, 2009. "There was a lesion there . . . they had to go in, scoop that out, put a bone graft in," she said.
But before that was done, there was speculation that Milewski might have a tumor in her right foot. That news terrified her parents and quickly made its way to Las Vegas, where David, her sibling, now works as a policeman.
"My brother and I were never really close until he went away to college . . . we were terrible to each other. He went away to school and I think that's when he realized he needed to be nicer to me," Milewski said with a laugh.
When word reached Vegas that his kid sister was injured - and might have a tumor - David, after working a night shift, fueled up on energy drinks and pointed his vehicle toward Boulder.
About 10 hours later, "He's at my apartment door - and I didn't even know he was coming," Milewski said. "It's just interesting because we didn't even know if it was a tumor - it was a maybe thing."
Fortunately, "maybe" turned out to be "definitely not," but if Milewski needed confirmation of how things had changed between her and her older bro, she had it.
Said Milewski: "That's the kind of relationship we have now . . . he's super-caring."
Her introduction to tennis also involves David. Their father pegged him, mainly because he was older, as the recipient of his kids' first tennis lessons at a nearby park.
Milewski remembers it like this: "I pretty much wanted to do anything my brother did, so I'd go and kind of hit around, too." Her hitting around evolved so impressively that "dad was like, 'Oh, this kid's kind of good for her age.
"When my brother quit (tennis) at about 13, my dad kind of took things more seriously with me."
And at that point, Milewski began wondering where her father was getting all of this net knowledge. Later, she discovered he was doing what she didn't care much about - watching lots of tennis on television as well as reading about it.
"In juniors, I found out he knew what he was talking about," Milewski said of her father. "Some of those times when I didn't want to believe him, I was like, 'You've never played before, how would you know?' But then our coach would tell me the same things my dad would."
She admits to being a casual fan of Monica Seles - she's never idolized anyone in the game - but also notes that playing always trumped watching. Still does, too.
No matter its origins, Milewski's foundation proved to be solid. Before CU's 6-1 win against the University of Denver on Feb. 20, she was ranked No. 101 nationally. Her 81 singles victories and 72 doubles wins put her total at 153 - eight shy of tying Franziska Jendrian (2005-09) as CU's all-time combined singles/doubles record-holder for career wins.
Kenneally called Milewski "an aggressive base-liner (who) has developed into a good all-court player. Often times as a player you don't see how much improvement you've made. But as a coach, you say, 'She couldn't do that as a freshman or sophomore.'
"A lot of her game has developed to the point where she plays real quality tennis . . . . In my 11 years here, yes, she's one of the better singles, and in doubles she'll also definitely be one of the best."
The win against DU put No. 52 (ITA) CU at 6-3 in the spring season. The Buffs' next match is Saturday, March 6 against Northern Colorado at the Millennium Harvest House.
Milewski, who usually teams with sophomore Ania Anuszkiewicz in doubles, believes she currently is playing "pretty solid" tennis - but that self-critique comes with a qualifier.
"I definitely still have some things to work on and things I can improve on," she said. "I'm the type of person who's never really satisfied. I could be playing really well and someone asks me and I'd say, 'I'm playing like crap.'
"I'm not really ever satisfied; I want to keep getting better if possible. Even if I'm playing the best tennis of my life, I'll never really say it."
CU opens Big 12 Conference play on March 12 at Nebraska, and Milewski, an accounting major, believes the Buffs "can do pretty well" in the league. "We've got three or four upperclassmen with quite a bit of experience and I think the team is playing pretty solid . . . there's stuff to work on, but we've got time."
It is time that at this time last year Milewski wasn't sure she had. Would the surgery be successful? How about her rehabilitation? Could she get her game back?
"The surgery hasn't affected her," Kenneally said. "In the fall, after not having played for eight or ten months, could she get back into the swing of dealing with pressure, the self-pressure of this level?
"Yes. She's striking the ball now, and her foot - I don't believe it crosses her mind. Now, it's 'let's go out and play good, positive tennis.'"
"I always wanted to come back," Milewski said. "I just didn't know I would have the option."
Thankfully, the redshirt option was there. Credit Monica Milewski for making the most of it.