An All-American and international athlete trains a women’s tennis team for the Pan American Games.
Born in Mexico City, Mexico, to a family of seasoned athletes, Seaver College alumna and internationally recognized tennis champion Isabela (Petrov) Iantosca (’97) was destined to excel in the world of sports. Her parents taught her how to play tennis as a young child in her home country, and she soon developed a love for the sport that she says “has given me everything I have in my life.”
After playing in junior tournaments in Mexico, she eventually joined Mexico’s junior national tennis team and participated in the 1991 Pan American Games. Toward the end of her high school career, Iantosca played in a few tournaments in the United States, where coaches took note of her athletic abilities. One of these coaches was then-Pepperdine University tennis coach and current director of tennis operations, Gualberto Escudero (’72), who recruited her without even seeing her play.
“I saw her records and I said these records speak for themselves,” remembers Escudero, who then offered her a full scholarship to play NCAA Division I tennis as a student. “From the moment she was here, I knew she would be one of the best players I’ve ever had. She came in at number one, and remained at number one four years later. She was the best player to come out of Mexico that year.”
At Pepperdine, Iantosca majored in business administration and played tennis in both singles and doubles matches. She was named an All-American athlete in 1996 and 1997, and remembers the support she received at the University. “The professors were very understanding when you had to go to tournaments,” she recalls. “Of course you still had to take tests and study, but they offered some flexibility.”
She began to discover her career path during her senior year, when she was first exposed to the business side of sports after landing her first internship at IMG (formerly International Management Group). IMG then offered her a job as a hockey agent’s assistant, a sport she admitted to her former boss she knew nothing about. However, she quickly learned that “it wasn’t about the sport, it was about seeing what’s best for the athletes,” which Iantosca understood. After earning her bachelor of science degree in business administration, IMG offered the Spanish-speaking Iantosca a marketing and events coordinator position at their Latin American office in Miami, Florida.
Iantosca’s career continued to intertwine both expert sports knowledge and solid business experience, which she perfected with each job she had. Her professional dreams came true in 2000, when she joined the ESPN International team in New York City, where she currently works as the senior director of digital marketing. “I love it here because it combines the business world with the best platforms for sports,” she says.
While enjoying her success at ESPN, Pepperdine once again entered her life when former coach Escudero introduced her to current Pepperdine head coach Per Nilsson. Iantosca was granted the opportunity to return to Pepperdine and meet the women’s tennis team, training with them on the court and sharing her success story as a way to inspire and encourage them. She also attended the Juniors U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, where she cheered for Brazilian-born Pepperdine tennis player Luisa Stefani, currently a first-year student at Seaver College.
Although she was spending less time competing in tournaments, Iantosca continued playing the sport over the years, adding that she has “always been connected with tennis and the tennis world.” But it wasn’t until a couple years ago that she decided to compete again as a way to inspire her children. “My kids asked me why I no longer participated in the games, and I wanted to be a good example to them,” she says. That decision had a major payoff, as she accepted the winning trophy at the 2014 USTA Women’s 40 Singles in the National Grass Court Championships hosted in Forest Hills, New York.
Then in 2015, the Federación Mexicana de Tenis, A.C. (Mexican Tennis Federation, A.C.) asked her whether she would be interested in coaching their women’s tennis team for the Pan American Games in Toronto, Ontario. “They said they had heard positive feedback about me, and asked if I wanted to be the coach.” Iantosca happily accepted this offer, which she calls “a very happy surprise.”
Having represented Mexico herself as a tennis player in the Pan American Games, along with the decades she spent training and participating in numerous tournaments, Iantosca could relate to the young women she now coached. After speaking with her boss and developing a plan to cover the work she would be missing while temporarily in Mexico City, she was on her way to enjoying her new role.
Her training techniques, which included strategic and emotional support, paid off at the international sporting event, as her team proudly won two Silver Medals, one in singles and one in doubles. Switching sides from participant to trainer proved to be a positive change for Iantosca, who was able to appreciate the game from a new angle. As she describes, “This was a great experience, because it was off the field as a coach, and not as a player.”
When it comes to motivational mantras, her philosophy is to focus on the journey, not the destination. “In training and in life, whatever you do, do it the best that you can,” she insists. “You can’t control the results. Those will come on their own. Focus on the path itself and not the final result, because sometimes you focus so much on the result that you get so stressed out and miss the present.”
Of all her professional achievements, Iantosca explains that her biggest accomplishment was scoring a scholarship to Pepperdine. “That opened a whole list of new opportunities in my life,” she says. “That’s where it all started. When I hear ‘Pepperdine,’ I get a smile on my face.”