At her father’s suggestion, CUI freshman Margaret “Maggie” Brascia and her sister took up pickleball last year during Covid-related lockdowns.
“We started playing as a fun hobby to stay active and get our exercise, and we ended up really liking it,” says Maggie.
Eighteen months later, they have become two of the best pickleball players in the U.S.
“It’s kind of funny because now people know who I am,” says Maggie. “They say, ‘I’ve seen you on the livestream.’ People who play pickleball are really addicted to it. They love watching pickleball.”
Maggie, a computer science major from Mission Viejo, chose CUI in part based on its proximity to her family — and to her pickleball practice courts and partners.
“Pickleball is still a super-small community, but it’s growing fast, that’s for sure,” she says.
Both sisters had played tennis and missed competing in 2020, so they took the opportunity to enter a local pickleball tournament in fall 2020 — and won.
“We thought, maybe this is something we should pursue, because it is such a small sport right now. Maybe we can get really good while it’s still small,” Maggie says.
Pickleball — played with a paddle and a Wiffle ball, not a racquet — falls somewhere between tennis and ping pong. The court is smaller, doubles is more popular than singles, and scorekeeping and strategy are more similar to volleyball than to tennis.
The area close to the net is called the “kitchen,” and the main goal is to “dink” the ball into the kitchen and outlast the other team as each side chases “dinks” around the court. Hitting the ball out of the air while standing in the kitchen is not allowed, so well-placed shots there put opponents in a tough spot. “They can’t really do anything with it. It’s an unattackable shot,” Maggie says.
Points can last a very long time. “That’s what makes it so fun, all the tension that builds up playing and watching,” she says.
It was a goal of mine to continue with my faith through college.
Many tennis players think they can come in and play the game like they play tennis, but they quickly learn that pickleball has its own set of skills and strategies. “You might have an easier transition, but it’s a different game,” Maggie says. “Tennis players come in and don’t play correctly.”
At lower levels, the game is “more bang-y,” she says. “Everyone just hits it hard.” At higher levels of skill, it’s more of a touch game — putting the ball in the right spot with the right bounce.
The Brascia sisters took lessons from a pro in their area, and began playing in more tournaments this year. One struggle, Maggie admits, has been simply getting along.
“Playing a sport with a sibling can be tough,” she says. “When you play with a stranger, you let things go and can’t get upset like you can with a sibling. We’re working on it.”
When it came time to choose a university, Maggie chose Concordia for its strong atmosphere of faith, in addition to its nearness to pickleball resources.
“I’m Catholic, and I was looking for a Christian school,” she says. “All the faith stuff on campus is so great. I go to chapel almost daily and I love the student-led ministries. Shout, the student-led worship service, is on Thursdays, and I’m also part of the Bible study in the women’s ministry. It was a goal of mine to continue with my faith through college. I know you can go away and stop practicing because you’re busy with everything and have a new routine. But since faith is so important here, it has helped me continue, and that has been motivating for me.”
She also appreciates CUI’s size, which gives her face-time with professors. “I learn better in small class sizes,” she says. “I like being able to get help when I need it, and the one-on-one attention from my professors.”
While adapting to college life, she continues to put up strong showings in national-level tournaments. Recently, she and her mixed-play partner placed second in a prominent tournament in Newport Beach, beating some of the best players in the world.
“That was a really cool experience,” Maggie says. “We got medals and one of those big, fake checks. It was cool to play the top pros because in tennis you never get to play the number one player in the world. In pickleball I’m able to play the top ten players.”
As the game grows in popularity, it is getting faster. For now, it draws “definitely an older crowd,” Maggie says. “People like it because it’s a lot easier on the body, because it’s a smaller court.”
Better than anything, she gets to be with great people. “I’ve made friends I will have for life, really nice people,” she says. “I get to play the sport and have a really good community, too.” At CUI, Maggie's first semester has gone well, and her class schedule has accommodated her pickleball practices and games. “I love it here and am really happy with my choice,” she says.
Having quickly caught up to more-experienced players, the Brascia sisters, who just won another regional tournament, look forward to more. “We are like, ‘Wow, who knows where we can go with this?’' Maggie says. “We just started, so I can’t wait to see how good I can get. I want to play pickleball for the rest of my life, and keep playing seriously.”