The Big Sky Conference has been celebrating the league's success both on and off the playing field by honoring 50 years of men's athletics and 25 years of women's athletics. The 50th anniversary celebrates the all-time individuals, teams and moments in the Big Sky's history, including the selection of the league's "50 Greatest Male Athletes" and the "25 Greatest Female Athletes." Along with these lists, the league will unveil the most memorable moments for both men's and women's competition.
Margarita Karnaukhova, who played for the Hornets from 2003-06, made the list of "greatest women's moments" where she checks in at No. 15 for her performances in NCAA Singles Tournament play. The Krasnodar, Russia, native was a four-time Big Sky Most Valuable player, and remains the only student-athlete in the 50-year history of the conference (in any sport) earn four MVP awards. She also became the first player in Sacramento State women's tennis history to earn All-America honors after advancing to the Sweet 16 of the 2004 NCAA Singles Tournament. She finished her career with a 66-17 dual-match singles record (.795 winning percentage) and was a member of the Sacramento State women's tennis all-decade team.
Below is a story published on the Big Sky Conference's website....
As a sophomore with the Sacramento State women's tennis team, Margarita Karnaukhova advanced to the Round of 16 in the 2004 NCAA Singles Tournament. Karnaukhova's success continued through the years as she made the singles tournament three straight seasons from 2004-06.
Karnaukhova's multiple wins in the NCAA Tournament place her at No. 15 on the Big Sky's list of "25 Greatest Women's Moments."
During her freshman campaign in 2003, Karnaukhova finished the season 11-4, all of which came at the No. 1 position.
When thinking back on her time playing at No. 1 as a freshman, Karnaukhova remembers "being excited and feeling a little pressure to show my team that I deserve the top spot."
"When she came in as a freshman, she had already played a lot of international tournaments,'' said Sacramento State Director of Tennis Bill Campbell. "She's playing at No. 1 as a freshman, and playing against seniors at No. 1 from other schools. No matter how good you are, if you're a freshman, you just don't have that experience."
Campbell believed the most development seen in a student-athlete is between their first and second years, and Karnaukhova proved that theory to be true.
In 2004, the Krasnodar, Russia, native, enjoyed her most successful season. As a sophomore that year, Karnaukhova advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Singles Tournament, the furthest any Hornet had ever advanced in the postseason event.
In the first round, Karnaukhova upset ninth-ranked Agata Cioroch of Georgia in three sets. In the second round, she beat Nataly Cahana of Old Dominion, who was ranked 30th, in straight sets.
Karnaukhova eventually fell to seventh-ranked and defending national champion Amber Liu of Stanford. After defeating Karnaukhova, Liu went on to become a back-to-back national singles champion.
By virtue of that Round of 16 appearance, Karnaukhova became the first player in school history to earn All-America honors. She finished her sophomore season with a 20-4 record at No. 1 singles and was ranked 33rd in the nation.
During her junior season, Karnaukhova, who was ranked 22nd, appeared headed for a repeat of the previous season. In the first round, she defeated No. 50 Courtney Bergman of Harvard in three sets. However, in the second round, Karnaukhova lost to 12th-ranked Kristi Miller, a freshman from Georgia Tech.
Karnaukhova's final season was in 2006. She advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year but fell to 30th-ranked Catrina Thompson of Notre Dame in the first round of a three-set match.
"I was playing my best tennis at that point, but due to mental weakness, I gave in," said Karnaukhova. "That's a great example of how much the mental game is as important as physical."
She finished her senior season 10-6 in singles play and wrapped up her career 66-17, all at the No. 1 spot. During her career at No. 1, she went undefeated against conference opponents. In the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference, she is still the only player to earn four Most Valuable Player awards in any sport.
Karnaukhova is now a first-time mother of 4-month old Nastassia. She still resides in Sacramento with her husband Joseph Gilbert, a former Sacramento State men's tennis player.