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BOGACZYK: Silver's Been Gold for Herd Tennis

March 12, 2015

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Maddie Silver's game of tennis might have a lot of flat moments, but that isn't anything like her performance to date in the Marshall program.

Against the imposing schedule played perennially by Coach John Mercer's team, Silver has played No. 2 singles with success as a rookie. And it seems some of her run to a 9-3 record is the way the Grand Rapids, Mich., native plays her game.

"Her strength? Maddie hits the ball really flat, and that's a little unusual nowadays," said Mercer, whose No. 74-ranked team entertains Miami (Ohio) on Friday at 4 p.m. and Winthrop at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Huntington Tennis Center in Barboursville. "Not so many players have that type of game, so she can be a difficult player to face.


 

 

"There aren't many girls who have seen that particular style that often and I think she really has a good mindset, too, is a good thinker on the court. She has a pattern and can read patterns and how she wants to respond to them based on the shots that are given to her.

"I think she's pretty intelligent on the court and she has that flat ball style that is a little unique, which works for her."

Silver is an uncommon Herd player for another reason. She was a top 50-ranked recruit - No. 49 by tennisrecruiting.net - out of high school, although she never played high school tennis at East Grand Rapids. Mercer could only recall MU getting top 50 players after they'd transferred from another NCAA Division I school.

"I visited and I really loved everything about the campus and the team," said Silver, 19. "And No. 1, John and Kellie (Schmitt, assistant coach) are really good coaches. It was pretty much a tennis decision and I think it was the right one."

One of Silver's three sisters, Ellen, is a senior playing tennis for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Mercer said the Herd's Silver starred in juniors and "had a good coach back home" in Mike Flowers.

So, how does the Herd get a top 50 recruit?

"Uh, pray a lot?" Mercer said with a laugh. "I think Marshall had a lot to offer for Maddie - a lot of her interests, the size of the school. I think sometime a lot of kids realize that a lot of the Power 5 schools are larger universities and some kids realize that and understand it doesn't fit their situation.

"I think she came here on her visit and I think she felt really comfortable with the coaches and the players on the team, and she realized she'd spending lot of time with us."

Marshall already has played six ranked teams, and the regular-season schedule includes another four teams currently in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association top 75 - Rice (62), Houston (34), DePaul (37) and William and Mary (33).

That kind of challenge also helped Marshall land a player like Silver.

"At first I did think it would be tough, but I just realized I had to manage my time well, and I think I've succeeded in that so far," Silver said. "If I'm stressed about school or something else, you can't take it out on the court. It will hurt your game.

"When you're out there you have to forget about school, and focus on your game. I'm happy the way I've played so far this season. There's always room for improvement ... Where I need to improve is coming in on my volleys and finishing off the point, as opposed to staying on the baseline. The No. 1 thing is to finish off the point faster than what I have been, by coming up to the net."

Silver smiled when asked about her flat ball.

"When I first stepped onto the court, it just happened," she said. "I always hit the ball extremely flat, and I do hit some spin, but, yeah, my ball is very flat and it's something I've always done. It has always been an advantage.

"People have a hard time with it and I hit it low, too. Usually, girls hit with a lot of topspin on this level and a flat ball can throw them off ... It's all where I pick up the ball with my racket. I can hit a ball with really a lot of topspin but it's not my style, not my game.'

After playing in tournament-style competition in the fall, Silver's early introduction to dual-match play was an eye opener. In its second outing of the spring season, Marshall went to top-ranked UCLA for the ITA Kickoff Weekend.

Silver's challenge was the Bruins' Chanelle Van Nguyen, then the No. 3-ranked college singles player. Silver fell, 6-0, 6-0.

"Playing UCLA, that was very exciting," Silver said. "I knew I had nothing to lose, so I just went out there with a bang and had fun, enjoying the experience. Even though our results weren't good, it was a very good experience for me."

Another new experience for Silver is playing collegiate doubles, where she has teamed with sophomore Rachael Morales of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, for a 9-3 mark - with all three losses coming against teams that are nationally ranked (UCLA, Virginia Tech, Louisville).

"In juniors, I didn't play much doubles," Silver said. "And college doubles is completely different. It's different because you have to be so much more knowledgeable, like reading the court, certain tactics you have to do.

"Rachael and I do well together, a good team. I think we do well because she finishes, and I have ground strokes that can set her up to finish."

Silver said the biggest change for her is the physical nature of Division I tennis, the weight room responsibilities and "a lot of running ... It's all helped. I can tell I'm stronger, and I'm faster on the court, too."

Mercer said he wasn't worried about playing a freshman at No. 2 singles, and Silver has handled the challenge.

"Her last year, after Maddie signed with us, she really kind of took off in her play, really started winning lot of matches, made a lot of improvements," the veteran Herd coach said. "She started beating people who were headed to Big Ten schools and beating them consistently.

"I think she maybe kind of relaxed, worked hard, and her coach at home (Flowers) did a good job with her. She felt confident in her decision to come here, and we were hoping when she came here that improvement would continue, and it has.

"She's playing how she's capable of playing and that doesn't always happen in your freshman year. It can be a tough transition, with such a major change in their lives, going off to school. You usually have some ups and downs, but she seems to have weathered all of that, not only maintained her level of play, but she has improved."

There's nothing flat about Silver's game, except those returns.

"I just want to play well and have good results," Silver said when asked about finishing her rookie season. "It's been good so far."

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