The odd couple

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April 10, 2007

1:33 PM

__For senior Megan Moulton-Levy and sophomore Katarina Zoricic, the number one-ranked doubles team in the country, their strength is in their many differences__

p. The nation’s number one-ranked doubles team steps onto the court for their Wednesday afternoon match against Old Dominion University. The two are a model in contrast. The first half of the team, senior Megan Moulton-Levy, is the veteran of the duo, the self-described “hot-wire” who, according to her coach, uses her quickness and athleticism to grind out her opponents. Her doubles partner, sophomore Katarina Zoricic, is by all accounts the quieter, more laid-back of the two, the one her coach says “takes it to her opponents” using her length and power.

p. They contrast physically as well. Moulton-Levy, who is black, stands just 5’0’’ tall, with well-defined muscles in both her arms and legs that accent her athletic frame. Zoricic, who is white, sports a lean, 5’9’’ tall frame, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail.

p. Individually, each is exceptional. Moulton-Levy, ranked 8th in the country, has compiled a 25-6 singles record this year and an 88-27 record during her career at the College, and Zoricic, ranked 65th nationally, has gone 27-7 this year and 52-16 overall in her two years at the College.

p. And together?

p. Together, they’re damn near impossible to beat.

p. Moulton-Levy and Zoricic’s opponents this day are Charleen Haarhoff and Fernanda Luiz of ODU. In case Haarhoff and Luiz weren’t already aware of their opponents’ number one ranking, the public address announcer makes sure of it. A large crowd, consisting mostly of adults in Tribe tennis apparel, as well as several players from the men’s tennis team, sits courtside, excitement building for the match.

p. Moulton-Levy and Zoricic stumble slightly out of the gate, committing several unforced errors on their way to a 3-3 tie after the first six games. Even during this rough patch, however, their prowess is on full display. Zoricic rips powerful forehand and backhand returns, setting up Moulton-Levy to put on a show at the net, forcing her opponents into bad shots with her strong volleys and overhead smashes. Their communication is phenomenal, as they rarely get in each other’s way, even on shots splitting the middle of the court.

p. In the seventh game, they take over. Zoricic’s power and Moulton-Levy’s athleticism overwhelm their opponents, both crashing the net at the same time to create an impenetrable wall. Luiz grows visibly frustrated, talking to herself and picking at the strings of her racket. Moulton-Levy and Zoricic sweep the last five games, resulting in an 8-3 victory.

p. The girls, who would see their 24-match winning streak (a school record) snapped by Northwestern University’s Alexis Prousis and Georgia Rose two days later, possess a stat line that is impressive to say the least. They have compiled a 52-12 record over the past two seasons, including a 33-2 record this year, and, oh yeah, a national title for their first-place finish at the ITA National Indoor Championship this past November.

p. Neither their road to success nor their partnership began at the College. Moulton-Levy, who hails from Grosse Pointe, Mich., hit her first tennis balls against the wall of her house at the age of three, emulating her tennis playing sister, Natasha Moulton-Levy, ’95. Similarly, Zoricic picked up her first tennis racket at the age of four in her hometown of Toronto, Canada. The two have been doubles partners for about six years now, as they began playing together on the junior tennis circuit and at Chris Evert’s tennis academy in Florida. While their first impressions of each other left something to be desired (“I thought she was kind of strange,” Zoricic said with a laugh, drawing an amiably outraged response from Moulton-Levy), they describe themselves now as “best of friends,” a friendship that extends far beyond the tennis court or the College.

p. Each says she idolizes the other’s skill set and ability.

p. “We’ll break down in the middle of a doubles point and just start worshipping each other, ‘You’re my idol,’ ‘No, you’re my idol,’” Moulton-Levy said. “It’s an honor to watch [Zoricic] play.”

p. Their aforementioned coach, women’s tennis head coach Kevin Epley, has only the highest praise for his dynamic duo. He described Moulton-Levy as more of a “counter-puncher,” the type of player that pressures her opponents simply by tracking down shots and keeping the ball in play. He described Zoricic as more of a “power player” with a strong forehand and serve.

p. As a person, Epley said that Moulton-Levy is “the kind of girl that everyone sort of gravitates to.” He also said that Zoricic “tends to be a little quieter than Megan, but goes about her business,” adding that she “demands a lot of herself.”

p. Though it may not have begun as the closest of friendships, it has certainly become just that.

p. “She’s an honorary member of my family,” Moulton-Levy said about Zoricic. “That speaks for itself.”

p. “Megan has been the leader of our team for the last two years,” Zoricic said. “Just to watch the things that she can overcome and how strong she is as a person … I’m sure it not only inspires me but our entire team and keeps our team going.”

p. While they mostly maintain their opposite roles — Moulton-Levy being the passionate, emotional player, and Zoricic being more composed and laid-back — occasionally their roles reverse, as was the case at the ITA National Indoor Championships. Moulton-Levy (who called that week “one of the most stressful weeks of my life”), and Epley both said that there were off-the-court issues that all three were dealing with during the week of the tournament.
“I was not in the right place mentally, and she totally picked up the slack,” Moulton-Levy said. “She carried me for the vast majority of the tournament.”

p. Both Moulton-Levy and Zoricic acknowledge that a great deal of pressure comes with the territory of being ranked number one, but emphasize that they are both far more focused on the Tribe tennis team as a whole.

p. Moulton-Levy says that there is a certain “intimidation factor” when they walk out on the court, that opposing teams feel. But she is not about to take the title of number one too seriously.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” she said.

p. Moulton-Levy is currently petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility. Because she attended high school in Switzerland, there was some confusion over her date of graduation and difficulties with getting her credits transferred, so she was declared ineligible her first year at the College. Epley said that the petition process has been held up by the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championships, but that a decision should be reached sometime this week.

p. If she does not get an extra year of eligibility, she is going to give the professional circuit a try.

p. “I don’t want to be left with any questions,” Moulton-Levy said.
In the event that Moulton-Levy does not return, Zoricic will be called upon to be “the leader of the team,” according to Moulton-Levy.

p. “I’ll just kind of follow [Moulton-Levy’s] footsteps,” Zoricic said. “Hopefully, I can do as well as she has.”

p. “You will,” Moulton-Levy interjected. “I have confidence.”
For now, though, there is one major objective on the duo’s radar screen.

p. “I can’t wait for the NCAA tournament,” Zoricic said.
Moulton-Levy, who may have to miss the College’s graduation because of the tournament, couldn’t agree more.

p. “Even though I have to miss my own graduation … it’s worth it,” Moulton-Levy said. “The tournament’s the big time.”

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