When new classes of athletes come into programs, growing pains are more than expected. Adjustments have to be made, and few freshmen have the experience to step right into a team and contribute right away.
When the Michigan men’s tennis team lost Anthony Jackson to graduation last year, an obvious void was left to fill. But when freshman Matko Maravic stepped onto a court donning the Maize and Blue for the first time last fall, it was obvious Michigan’s rebuilding period wouldn’t just be shorter than usual — it would be nonexistent.
Maravic jumpstarted his collegiate career by winning a three-set thriller over Ohio State’s Scott Green at the Wolverine Invitational, and has yet to slow down this season.
Inexperience has never been a factor for Maravic. By the time he came to Michigan, the Croatian native had more experience than half of the team. Along with his 2000 Croatia Singles championship, Maravic also had a high school state title from the state of Michigan under his belt.
Representing East Grand Rapids in 2003, he took the state by storm, going undefeated en route to a Division III state championship. After a year back in Croatia attending V. Gimnazija, where he’d go to college was an easy decision.
“I chose Michigan because of the fact that I went to (East Grand Rapids) for a year and most of my friends from there were coming here,” Maravic said.
Although Maravic was experienced by the time he reached Ann Arbor, the collegiate game and environment was still different from anything he had seen before. While playing high school tennis, he only participated in singles. Although he did participate in a few doubles events overseas — he won the ITF Mamaia-Sen doubles championships in 2001 — the majority of his play still consisted of predominantly singles action before coming to Michigan.
“I did play some doubles before, but not as much as here,” Maravic said. “Playing doubles has improved my volleys significantly.”
The biggest obstacle for Maravic this year hasn’t had anything to do with styles of play or level of competition. Differences in dual-match fo rmats have proved to be the most foreign to him.
“I was not used to playing on a team before,” Maravic said. “I had my individual coach back in Croatia and rarely had anyone else on the court.”
Maravic’s ability to adapt has trumped any negatives that have come his way. He was the lone Wolverine to win both of his singles and doubles matches in the opening two duals of the season, and he holds a 2-1 record in both spots. His volleys have been developing throughout the season to give him a more all-around game, but Maravic still feels the real strength of his game lies elsewhere.
“I would say my serve is my strongest part of my game,” Maravic said. “It allows me to get free points and open the court for an easy second shots.”
Maravic is not the lone member of this year’s freshman class. Joe Cariello has seen limited action for the Wolverines, posting a 1-1 record in the fall. The Wolverines graduate four seniors this year, so Cariello’s time is sure to increase soon. The graduation of four players — almost half of the team — also gives first-year coach Bruce Berque the opportunity to recruit heavily and bring in a strong group for his first recruiting class. The team has already signed three players for the upcoming season – Peter Aarts, Scott Bruckmann and Andrew Mazlin – and hopes to sign one more during the spring.
“Our recruiting went very well,” Berque said. “All three of them are big athletic guys who have a lot of room for development. When you’re looking at college players, in addition to looking at their character and what type of students they are, you’re looking for guys who have a lot of potential for improvement and playing a big game. I believe all three of those guys have that potential.”
With the impact Maravic has had already for the Wolverines, and the potential of others coming into the program, the future looks bright for the Michigan tennis squad.