March 7, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A year ago at this time, Kai Broomfield’s presence in the Marshall women’s tennis lineup was pretty much like her forehand.
“In-and-out,” MU coach John Mercer said.
These days, as the Thundering Herd hosts a Huntington Tennis Club “doubleheader” indoors Saturday against 74th-ranked Liberty and West Virginia State (11 a.m. and 5 p.m.), Broomfield has stepped up her game – and the team’s as well.
When you’re playing Nos. 1-6 in singles and three doubles teams, there isn’t much opportunity for a so-called “seventh man.” That was Broomfield as an MU sophomore in 2012-13. This season, she’s played Nos. 2 and 3 for the 63rd-ranked Herd (8-3), and is doing so with confidence.
She’s 6-5 against a schedule that has included five teams that have been in the ITA rankings at one time or another this season
“During the summer and then the winter break, I trained extremely hard,” Broomfield said before practice Thursday. “All I thought about was tennis and how I could improve my game, and I think that really helped me become better as a player.
“And I think John recognized that. I had to prove I was working hard and so he let me play. It’s all been good.”
Broomfield, of Toronto, was a midyear enrollee in January 2012 after she finished high school academic credit work after being home-schooled. She had battled right wrist and tendinitis in both knees before changing her concentration to the books, after being ranked No. 1 in Canada in under-14s and in the top three in 16s.
Last season, as a sophomore, she was 5-7 in singles, playing in half of the Herd’s 24 matches. Now, she’s settled in pretty much at no. 3, behind Marshall’s German duo of sophomore Dana Oppinger and freshman Derya Turhan.
“Kai was in-and-out a lot last year, but she’s not only improved since then, she’s improved steadily since she got here,” Mercer said. “She’s somebody we recruited that had a lot of talent, had a really good junior career, and then kind of probably didn’t have ability to spend as much time on tennis as she wanted or could have.
“She has taken advantage of what we have here and each year she’s gotten better and better. This year, we’re seeing more consistency from her. Last year she kind of went through periods where she would do well, and then she would kind of lose it, so she was kind of in-and-out. This year, you’re seeing a lot more consistency. It’s a lot more maturity as a player and as a person and that has made a big difference.
“She’s played mostly No. 3, a little bit of 2, and she’s doing well, competing hard and that’s what we need … keep competing for every point.”
Broomfield said she’s learned how to do that.
“I think my forehand has really improved,” said Broomfield, who turns age 20 next month. “I think my forehand command was very up-and-down, and I feel like I’ve stabilized more and I’ve gotten more consistent on that side and it’s really helped me in my entire game.
“The mental part has been big, too, definitely. Once your shots start working for you, you feel unbelievable, you feel like you can beat anyone if you put your mind to it, and being able to make shots has changed things for me.
“I know I’ve been putting in the work, know I’ve been training hard. And knowing that -- going into a match -- if I work really hard, I feel like I know I’ll eventually win.”
Mercer said he has seen a new maturity from Broomfield on and off the court, too. When she arrived on campus, she was 17 and hadn’t played competitively in a while.
“We heard about her, and she was being recruited by some big schools,” Mercer said. “Luke Shields was the assistant (coach) here then and he went up to Canada to watch her play. He liked her, said she could help us, and we kept following up.
“She got here at midyear, and honestly, she wasn’t ready to start playing then, and it took the whole spring to get her going. We probably should have redshirted her, but we needed players in case somebody got hurt.
“I do think she underestimated what she was getting into, and I don’t think Kai prepared how she can prepare. I don’t think she practiced or played over that fall (2011, while she was finishing her academic credits), then she showed up to play. She wasn’t prepared, but she had talent, and we stuck with her.”
Broomfield went 5-8 that freshman spring playing Nos. 4-6. It was only then that she began to focus on tennis again, after choosing Marshall while also considering Oklahoma and Missouri as college options.
“I heard about the Mercer family and it’s all about tennis with them, and these coaches here (Mercer and assistant Kellie Schmitt) are all about tennis, and I love that.
“Coming in at midyear was tough, considering I was injured a lot. The biggest thing for me was I had to finish school, so I had to focus on that. And it was hard to fit tennis into that. But as soon as I came here, the coaches were very supportive and I got a lot of individual lessons. They just really helped me improve and get back to a level I was before.”
Last summer, Broomfield went home to Toronto and played tournaments and worked with Casey Curtis, who coaches her 16-year-old sister, Ayan.
Broomfield, a biology major, wants to go into dermatology for a career, but before then, she joins senior Karli Timko as the veterans on another Mercer team that’s challenged by a schedule stocked with quality foes.
“It’s great to be able to be out there to play,” Broomfield said. “Honestly, being 3 or 2 doesn’t matter, because every point is important. So, as long as you’re playing 1 through 6, you’re out there playing for the team. You have to score a point no matter where you play, 1 through 6.
“I feel I can do that now. The schedule we play is very tough. But if you love tennis, you want the challenge. You love that part of it.”