As the Seton Hall tennis team gears up to head to the Big East Championship in Cayce, South Carolina next week, there is ample time for its two seniors, Anicka Fajnorova and Thandy Kangwa, to reflect on their time with the program.
The duo arrived together in 2015-16 on a team which went 8-13 the previous year. Fajnorova slid into a singles role immediately, whereas Kangwa saw action in only three matches, but each player has developed into a key cog on the team in the ensuing years. Now, Fajnorova has developed into the team’s number one option for singles, and Kangwa is a main contributor in doubles.
In 2019, Fajnorova’s dual match record in singles was 12-9, and she also went 12-6 alongside Regina Pitts in doubles play. Kangwa, with Minja Gligic, went 12-8 in doubles play. The play of Fajnorova, Kangwa and their teammates ultimately led Seton Hall to a 13-8 record, including 5-4 in Big East play, which is the program’s best since going 12-10 in 2013-14.
With a team made up of just eight players, it is important for Fajnorova and Kangwa to lead the way by example on and off the court. A few years down the line, long after the two are gone, their fingerprints will still be left on the program due to the lessons passed down to the younger players.
“It’s not a big team where you can make little groups. We are the only little group,” Fajnorova said. “That has been very different but very good. Overall, I feel like I’ve grown as a person very much. The program is what really helped me develop through the challenges we’ve gone through.”
The tight-knit atmosphere of the team has also allowed for Fajnorova and Kangwa to grow extremely close to one another over the course of their collegiate careers. As roommates for all four years, the two provide support for one another daily.
“[Kangwa] is my day one. Literally, the first day we were moving to campus on August 25, 2015, we were roommates, so we’ve become really close, we’ve gone through everything together,” Fajnorova said. “From the really hard times to the really fun and really great times, there’s no one that I can compare that experience to with. We’ll always have that connection that we’ve gone through certain things together that no one else will understand.”
Their relationship extends beyond personal interactions. As seniors, the two have been tasked with mentoring the younger players on the team, and it is something that Fajnorova and Kangwa have embraced.
“I totally love it. I see myself a lot in our freshmen,” Fajnorova said. “It reminds me of when I was a freshman, our senior, [Hannah Liljekvist], she was the captain as well. I looked up to her so much, and I was wondering if people are going to look up to me like that when I’m a senior. I feel like it’s been that way and we have really good relationships overall with everyone and we respect each other.”
Head coach Kevin McGlynn sees the work that Fajnorova and Kangwa have done both on and off the court to ensure the team’s newfound success, especially after going through three coaching changes in their careers.
“The fact that they have been able to work through that, and this, their senior year, the thing that I’m feeling best about for them is that they’re finishing up their senior year with their best dual match record,” McGlynn said. “In the past, their best year was they had 10 wins in 2015. The fact that they stepped up this year as seniors and competed hard, through that example, they’ve provided good leadership for the rest of the team.”
Fajnorova credits McGlynn, in the second year of his second stint as Seton Hall coach, heavily with motivating the team throughout the season to get to where it is now.
“[Coach McGlynn] pulled out of me this strength and this big motivation to do the final push, especially my senior season,” Fajnorova said. “He made me really motivated and pumped up to do well.”
As much as the season has been a success thus far, the mountain that is the Big East Championship lays ahead.
“We’re really excited for Big East,” Fajnorova said. “We want to go and give our hearts out on the court, especially me and [Kangwa] being it’s our last run there. The last dual match we had this weekend was emotional and intense, and everyone was really trying their best.”
“The Big East right now wide is open,” McGlynn said. “The phrase that I keep using for the team, playing everyone in the Big East, is that ‘There’s a Pathway to Victory.’ It’s a question of whether or not we show up that day in all the places that we need to have success.”
When the final point is played for Fajnorova and Kangwa, respectively, though, the two can leave knowing that they made a positive impact on the program and on themselves.
“As a person, I’m really happy with who I am right now,” Fajnorova said.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.