For Melody Taal, education and sports have always had equal importance. It is what drove the tennis player from Ede, Netherlands to travel thousands of miles from her home to play collegiately in the United States.
The transition began with a key decision between choosing to pursue professional tennis or attending a university. In the Netherlands, these two were mutually-exclusive; however, in the United States, she had the ability to enjoy the best of both.
“I chose to go to college because back home I had a pretty good high school education and I wanted to do something with it,” Taal said. “Back home, there’s not an option to keep doing that. So that’s why I went to American college. This is the best option for me.”
On a team littered with upperclassmen, Taal has posted a 5-2 singles and 2-2 doubles record in her second season, establishing herself as a cornerstone of the team. Despite her strong showing and the potential for the start of her professional career, Taal has remained level-headed and focused on the goals for her team above her own individual aims.
“Right now, I see myself as a good player [on] the Seton Hall women’s tennis team,” Taal said. “I compete really hard and I’ve always liked playing tennis.”
Part of what makes Taal successful on the court is her insatiable self-critique, as she is not afraid to look at where she can improve and by how much. Off the court though, she cited a tough transition to life at Seton Hall during her freshman year, even though others around her say that was not the case.
Director of Academic Support Services Matthew Geibel, who works closely with Seton Hall student-athletes, was one of those people who saw Taal acclimate on and off the court quicker than most student-athletes.
“It’s funny – she’s so hard on herself,” Geibel said. “For her, if she didn’t tell you she struggled, you wouldn’t know it because she is – first of all she is so smart. She works so hard, but she is so chill. She’s very even-keel, not real excitable. She’s got such a smooth personality.”
These traits proved useful in the midst of two coaching changes – one right before Taal’s arrival in 2016 and one this past winter.
“She came here thinking she was going to play for one coach, and when she got here there was a new coach, which can throw anybody off,” Geibel said.
Riza Zalameda was the coach who had taken over when Taal arrived at Seton Hall, but Zalameda only lasted just a year and a half before former Pirate coach Kevin McGlynn returned to the program.
It was the third coach for Taal and her teammates, which would have been tough for any group. Luckily for the team, it was good timing, as soon after the announcement of the coaching change the team was scheduled to embark on a trip to Los Angeles for matches over spring break. Taal cited how this trip, despite the changes, brought the team closer together.
“After meeting our coach two times, we went to L.A., and it really helped us bond with the coach, but, also as a team because, we all felt a dysfunction between the coach and the team, and now we feel like we’re one team now,” Taal said. “Not a coach and a team, but we’re a team together. Spring Break really helped and the matches around then.”
While harmony builds on the tennis side, Taal has also developed a strong interest and appreciation for her business classes and curriculum.
“I like the business school here,” Taal said. “I think after college I might slow down on the tennis part – extend on the business school.”
Geibel sees an easy transition into business or sport for Taal, as her mindset allows her to be successful in any endeavor.
“She’s going to continue to do great things while she is here and after she graduates,” Geibel said. “She’s just a winner and she’s got that personality. She’s one of those people you like to be around.”
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.