Walking into Frog Hollow Racquet Club in Worcester on a recent Friday afternoon, for Mihaela Codreanu it might as well have been Cheers — everyone seems to know her name.
With a season like the Methacton sophomore had this fall, there's far more people than the ones inside a local tennis club that have come to know her name.
In the greatest individual season by any girls tennis player in area history Codreanu was a silver star, capturing second place in both the District 1-AAA Championships and PIAA Class AAA Championships after leading the Warriors team to second place in the PIAA Team Championships.
Her unprecedented success for her team and herself made Codreanu the easy selection as The Mercury's All-Area Girls Tennis Player of the Year.
Codreanu burst on to the scene as a ninth grader, winning the PAC-10 singles championship and ultimately making the PIAA Championships, a massive accomplishment for a first-year player.
In Year 2 her goal was to return to Hershey for the PIAA tournament and advance past the first round.
What became of her season was so much more.
Tennis is very much an individual discipline, which made the success of the Methacton team all the more exciting.
"We did amazing as a team. District champions, second place in states — that was just great,' said Codreanu. "Our team was so supportive of each other. We achieved so many goals and it was so unexpected. It was a season we'll never forget.'
It was obvious the Warriors were a talented team considering two-time PAC-10 singles champion Lauren Simeone was playing No. 3 singles, behind Codreanu and freshman Jordyn King. But with only moderate past postseason success as a team it was hard to know where the Warriors would fall.
With Codreanu and the other two singles standouts leading the way, Methacton topped Conestoga in the District 1-AAA final and then won three rounds in states before falling to North Allegheny, 3-2, in the final. Codreanu didn't lose a match the entire team run and only dropped one set, when she rallied past Unionville standout Zaini Zaki, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the state semifinals.
"I couldn't believe that we made it so far. I was very proud of my team for being focused and doing their best,' Codreanu said.
After winning a second straight PAC-10 singles title, she went a step farther in the district tournament, this year making the final before falling to defending state champion Cristina Kaiser of Plymouth-Whitemarsh, 6-3, 7-6 (2).
Then at the PIAA Championships she quickly surpassed her preseason goal with back-to-back 6-0, 6-0 victories in the first two rounds.
Codreanu's talent and commitment to tennis is obvious. What may set her aside is her competitive spirit and winning mentality, something that was never more on display than in the PIAA semifinals against District 1 champion Callie Frey, who knocked Codreanu out of states the previous year.
"She beat me first round last year and I definitely had that in my mind. I lost the first set 6-0; it flew by,' Codreanu said. "I was determined to play my best and do the best I can. I couldn't just say, ' Oh, I got to the semis. She's better than me.'
"No, I had to fight. And I did.'
Indeed, Codreanu dropped the first set 6-0, seemingly a continuation of her 6-1, 6-2 loss to Frey the year before.
"The second set I just did my best and I won the set. So in the third, I thought, ' I can do this.' (Methacton) Coach (Cathy) Miller gave me great advice and I followed it. I loosened up and I believed in myself.'
Her belief and game matched up even when the third set went to a tiebreaker and Codreanu came through in the clutch to win 0-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) to reach the final. Ultimately, Pine-Richland senior Marlys Bridgham, the District 7 runner-up, completed her hot streak by stopping Codreanu, 6-1, 6-4, for the championship.
Fortunately for Codreanu, she'll have two more opportunities to take it a step further.
"Of course I want that gold. I'll try my best and keep working hard. That's the most important thing.'
Demure yet warm, the girl off the court doesn't entirely match the one on it. On the court she is committed to honing her craft — ' practice like you play' she likes to say. She does that quite a bit, practicing 4-5 days a week, two hours a session. It's part of what makes Codreanu the tennis player full of belief.
"Off the court is one thing, but on the court I'm determined,' she said. "I know my ability and I know what I can do. On the court I expect my best tennis to come forward.'
Codreanu fell in love with tennis during her early years living in Romania.
"I was around 5 or 6. My dad had a tennis racquet and I picked it up and I fell in love. I just can't get away from it,' she said.
Whether it was those early years in Romania or when she moved to the United States with her parents Michael and Lilia in 2008, she has always been determined to be the best she could be.
"If I have a task at hand I want to do my best at it. When I was younger it was the same,' she said.
Even outside a match setting, just a casual hit, there are flashes of the competitor. The long, confident groundstrokes are obvious, the elegant service motion a work of art with so many moving parts coming together in a burst of power greater than her slight frame would appear able to generate. The hitting partner puts a bit extra on the shot, a would-be winner but Codreanu isn't about to concede. Instead, she chases it down and returns her shot with a bit more angle, more power, more spin than the one sent her direction.
Practice like you play indeed.
Afterwards she's asked, what do you think are your greatest strengths as a tennis player?
"Well,' she pauses then says with a smile, "that's for me to know.'
A magician never unveils her secret.