BOGACZYK: Herd Seems Like Forever Young to Mercer
The Word on the Herd-September 12, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – If the 2014-15 Marshall tennis season plays a lot like the one veteran Coach John Mercer’s team completed five months ago, there’s good reason.
Youth is serving … again.
In 2013-14, the Herd’s lone senior was Karli Timko. This time, as Marshall opens the season next Friday at William & Mary in the Tribe Invitational, Mercer again has only one senior on a team that has a limited amount of collegiate tennis experience.
Kai Broomfield is the veteran on a seven-player scholarship roster that also includes four sophomores and freshmen Maddie Silver and Marija Bogicevic. And just as last fall, Mercer will use the tournament portion of the schedule to figure out who’s where for the spring dual-match schedule.
So, what did Mercer – entering his 13th season as Herd coach – and assistant coach Kellie Schmitt learn in dealing with a young 2013-14 team that played the Herd’s usual schedule with a significant degree-of difficulty?
“Probably the biggest thing is being patient,” Mercer said. “We did a really good job being patient with them last year, being positive with them from a mental standpoint. From a physical standpoint, it’s getting them up to speed as fast as you can, the off-court training, the weights, the running, especially the running.
“That’s the hard part. You’re getting them from being a junior player to a Division I collegiate player. And that’s probably the biggest thing we’re emphasizing right now.”
Mercer said he expects to add another scholarship player for the spring semester to join Bogicevic and Silver. That situation occurred last season, when Derya Turhan and Anna Pomyatinskaya played the spring schedule as first semester freshmen.
Turhan, from Germany, played No. 2 and finished with a 10-8 record (12-10 overall), while at No. 4, Pomyatinskaya was 14-6 (16-6 overall). At No. 3, Broomfield, from Canada, was 11-7 (13-9 overall), and Rachael Morales was 13-7 (14-7 overall) at No. 6 as a college rookie.
Last season’s No. 1 player, sophomore Dana Oppinger, has transferred to the University of San Diego.
Does Mercer look upon Broomfield as the necessary team leader because of her years in the program?
“Yes, I think so,” the Herd coach said. “With the experience Kai has, and I think Derya, even though she is a sophomore, she’s older (22nd birthday on Sept. 28), and I think we have a whole group who played. They know what to do. They should all lead one another by example.
“As for who’s playing where, No. 1, Derya is likely. She was No. 2 last year, a great year for her first semester in college tennis. Kai played 3 and Anna 4, and they can move up, but that all being said the freshmen are coming in with some pretty strong credentials.
“You go to the first tournament and get a feel for how they’re going, but in practice, the freshmen are right in there, as competitive as all the other ones.”
Silver is a five-star recruit from Grand Rapids, Mich. She was ranked No. 49 in the 2014 recruiting class by tennisrecruiting.net. “She could easily be playing in the Big Ten,” Mercer said. “She’s a very good recruit for us.”
He compared Bogicevic to former Herd No. 1 Dominika Zaprazna, who now helps the Herd as a student manager – an under-the-radar signee from Serbia who “won some matches in some Futures tournaments in Europe,” Mercer said. Bogicevic didn’t play enough to grab the attention of most big U.S. recruiters and that lack of exposure probably helped the Herd.
“She’s going to be pretty good, like Dominika was,” Mercer said.
After the tournament at W&M, Marshall will have entries in events at Virginia Tech (three players) and Virginia (four players), then play in the ITA Atlantic Regional, also at Virginia Tech. The fall season closes in early November at the College of Charleston Fall Invitational.
In the spring, Marshall’s early schedule includes the prestigious ITA National Team Indoor, with a match against UCLA and then Kansas State or Cal-Irvine. The spring schedule includes matches against oft-ranked programs like Kentucky, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Utah, Rice, Winthrop, VCU and DePaul.
“With the freshmen, what we’ll figure out this fall is gauge where they are, what they need to work on, how their style of game, their strengths, how they work against college players versus junior players, and how their weaknesses might hold up against a higher-level, stronger player,” Mercer said. “The pecking order isn’t always the same as it is in juniors. You can kind of get away with some things in juniors that won’t necessarily work in college.”
Marshall finished last season 14-8 in the spring dual matches and ranked No. 78, just outside the ITA Top 75 poll in which the Herd ranked as high as No. 59 during the spring season.
The Herd’s 2015 spring schedule is of the formidable nature that Mercer perennially plays. Last spring, nine of the Herd’s 22 matches were against top 75 teams. How Silver and Bogicevic and the other newcomer Mercer hopes to bring in deal with a similarly testy schedule will determine the Herd’s story.
“They really did great,” Mercer said when asked how the first-semester foreigners handled last spring’s challenge. “Derya and Anna did fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for more out of them, coming in as they did for one semester and I really can’t believe they did what they did against that level of schedule.
“We did hit a little bit of a wall at the end which cost us, got up in the rankings (to 59), then lost two tough 4-3 matches to Winthrop and Louisville (both ranked) that got away, and then lost a tough conference (USA) tournament match to (No. 19) Tulsa. It probably would have been 4-3 by the end (stopped at 4-2).
“So, you win those two and you go from maybe mid-40s in the rankings and in the NCAA Tournament and we finished 78. By the end we were disappointed, because we’d put ourselves in good shape with a good couple of weeks and then it didn’t happen.
“It wasn’t from a lack of effort or anything. Some days the ball just doesn’t bounce your way, but we played hard and worked hard.”