Jan. 19, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
BARBOURSVILLE – It was 10 a.m., 28 degrees, wind chill hovering near 20 and spring had just sprung for one of Marshall’s athletic teams.
The Thundering Herd opened the spring portion of its 2012-13 season Friday, wisely in the warmth of the Huntington Tennis Club. It may have been sunny outdoors, but the team was facing a flurry of action.
After a 4-3 victory over visiting Eastern Michigan to start the spring schedule, veteran MU Coach John Mercer – perhaps thinking he was a baseball or softball coach -- had the Herd motoring west on I-64 to finish the day’s doubleheader with a 5-2 win at Morehead State.
It’s doubtful any among the Herd women could have been more enthused about this twinbill than freshman Dana Oppinger, whose semester play began with two wins in the triumph over EMU.
Oppinger, a freshman from Weingarten, Germany, was experiencing her first dual-match competition in an interrupted career of some note that has included junior play on the German National Team between ages 10-14.
“It’s a new experience to play on a team, especially in the U.S.; it’s my first time,” said Oppinger, who first played for MU on the 2012 fall schedule filled by tournaments, not school team competition. “A lot of times in tennis you play twice in one day. Before they go to college, you might play in a tournament, and sometimes if you lose, you get in a car and go play another match.
“But this, for me, it’s new to be with the girls and train with them every single day, be like a team and have that team feel, and it’s wonderful.”
In a tough opener for the Herd’s Nos. 1 and 2 players – Dominika Zapranza and Maria Voscekova lost in singles and doubles – Mercer’s depth was superior.
The duo of Karli Timko and Oppinger, at No. 3, helped the Herd get the doubles point with an 8-5 win over Zsofia Biro and Ankita Bhatia of EMU. Oppinger won 6-3, 6-2 at No. 5 singles over Bhatia.
Ellie Ball, Timko and Oppinger won at Nos. 3-5 singles for Marshall. At No. 6, Herd senior Kara Kucin lost in a 4-6, 6-4, 12-10 marathon to Biro.
“I really never thought about playing college tennis,” said Oppinger, 19. “I played on the national team until I was 14 and then I got injured (hernia) and didn’t play much for a while.
“When I got injured with the hernia, it wasn’t only to my body. It was more mental for me. I couldn’t play like I did, and I was used to winning. I was always the best, from Day 1. I had to start from zero and had to lose against girls that I was used to losing against.
“It was more mentally hard for me to get back than it was physically. I continued practicing, and it came to a point where I said, ‘It’s not what I want anymore,’ and I decided to concentrate more on school and just play whenever I wanted to. It was just a mental break I needed from sports.”
When she finished high school at Karlsruhe in Germany, she took what in her native lane is known as a “social year,” where a student goes abroad for volunteer work in a social-services institution.
She worked in a kindergarten in Mexico City.
“You do a social year for the government, in a social institution,” Oppinger explained. “You just get your food and your housing paid, but actually the work you’re doing there, you’re doing it for free.
“I was working with kids, doing sporting activities with them and teaching them a bit of English, with small ones doing some games, just supporting them.”
While she was in Mexico, she said some coaches – including Mercer – wrote to her and asked if she’d be interested in playing collegiate tennis in the U.S.
Following the injury at 14, Oppinger had stopped playing “seriously” when she was 15½. She didn’t play “more than once or twice a week until I was 18,” the Herd freshman said.
The college offers intrigued her.
“I thought about it, that it would be a perfect opportunity to have studies and sport at the same time,” Oppinger said. “What I’m doing here is not possible in Germany. Either you study, or you play tennis.
“This is the perfect program; you can train a lot, compete a lot, and go to school. I thought it to be the perfect package.”
She took a semester of MU online courses last year, then came to Huntington to join the tennis team in August. And she was buoyed toward the spring schedule with her performance to finish the fall season at the Harrison Invitational at North Carolina.
“It’s nice,” Oppinger said. “I’m getting back into that old feeling. I was struggling and it was hard to get into that competition again, because you’re out for 3-4 years, you need time to get back.
“I was really struggling last semester, but the last tournament, I won doubles (with Timko), made the finals of singles and that gave me a good feeling, so I hope have a good season this year. I’m motivated.”
Marshall visits rival West Virginia next Saturday, then comes home to play eight straight matches between Feb. 1 and March 3. The foes in that span include Kentucky, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and a first Conference USA meeting with Old Dominion.