Sophomore M'Balia Bangoura collected eight wins for the Huskers in invitational play this fall.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Sophomore Bangoura Strengthening for Spring

By Rachel Long

Nebraska was not on M’Balia Bangoura’s radar before her senior year of high school. In fact, the young tennis star was confident Florida was the best place for her to continue her college career.

Then, she visited Nebraska and realized the Cornhusker State and the University of Nebraska had some amazing things to offer in academics, athletics and life.

“The beginning of my senior year, the coaches approached me at a tournament. I had never heard of Nebraska,” Bangoura said. “I met with them, and they were telling me about it and I was like ‘huh.’ At the time, I was set on going to a different school, because I thought for sure I was going to stay in Florida.”

Before Nebraska came into her life, the 2015 Florida Class 1A Singles champ and 2016 Class 1A Doubles champion had only officially visited the University of Central Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University. Bangoura was set on enrolling and playing at UCF, and only postponed her commitment so she could at least visit Nebraska.

“[My parents helped me] with pushing me to come visit, because I was set on something else and I wasn’t viewing all my options,” Bangoura said. “I visited here, and I just liked it. I liked it better. The people were really nice here. I really liked the atmosphere and I just liked the way it looked. It felt like it would be a good place to be.”

Bangoura immediately recognized the difference people could make in her life at Nebraska. Although she was ranked as one of the most talented players in the graduating Class of 2016, she carried a strong team-first concept that resonated with Nebraska.

“I not only have to worry about me, but I have to worry about five other people on the court while they’re playing too,” Bangoura said. “High school tennis wasn’t as serious, the level wasn’t as high. We have trainers and all kinds of nutritionists here to help us, and I didn’t really have that [in high school], so I think that’s important and it’s helped me a lot. My mental toughness, my nutrition, strength training and treatments, I take it more seriously now.”

A former recruit ranked No. 50 in the nation, Bangoura finally got to test the collegiate courts this last spring. Going 9-8 in singles and 7-4 in doubles was satisfactory for the back-to-back Out-of-Door Academy MVP, but Bangoura is locking down on fundamentals, focus and mental toughness as she prepares for her second spring season.

“Balia continues to grow her game and had a tremendous growth spurt in her level of play late in the fall,” Head Coach Scott Jacobson said. “Her quickness, agility, and overall movement on the court has improved dramatically. In addition, her return of serve is a huge weapon and her serve has gotten much stronger and more consistent throughout the course of the fall. We’re excited about what she can accomplish moving forward. We certainly believe she has the potential for greatness. Additionally, M’Balia is a wonderful human being, and we are honored and feel privileged to have her as a member of our Husker family.”

Although tennis has been at the core of Bangoura’s life since she was first coached by her father at age 3, it may be her ability to connect with all types of people on and off the court that makes her even more special as a Husker.

“I felt like I’ve always had different kinds of groups of people as friends. I don’t usually stick with one group,” Bangoura said. “I was always mingling with everyone, just meeting different people, and going outside of athletics. Meeting other students who don’t play sports and just meeting other people [has also eased my transition]. I just feel comfortable here and I’m doing my thing and just having fun.”

She also feels that the support of her Husker teammates has helped ease the transition to not only college tennis but to living 1,500 miles away from her home in Florida.

“I just love how easy I was able to fit in with the team, because it’s one of the biggest things that determines your success in college, whether or not you get along with the coaches and the team, so that’s a good thing,” Bangoura said. “We’re all supportive of each other, and I feel like we care about each other.”

The sophomore student-athlete is studying sports communication, with hopes of working for ESPN or managing social media for a sports team after graduation. Bangoura’s time outside the classroom consists of complete concentration on the upcoming competition.

“I’ve just been working on specific things and trying to keep track of what I need to do and keep doing those things, and not relaxing once I do kind of well,” Bangoura said. “So just to keep working harder. Just my serve, my mental toughness and my movement, I’ve been working on that, working on getting faster. My goals are to try to win as much as possible, by just focusing, working harder and being more disciplined.”

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