Native-Croatian Matko Maravich, a sophomore on the Michigan men’s tennis team, had a rude awakening to sports in America.
During his junior year of high school, Maravich participated in a youth exchange program that sent him to Grand Rapids, where he attended East Grand Rapids High School. While there, he participated in his first flag football game.
“I got the ball, started running and got tackled by one of the players that currently plays (football) for Michigan,” Maravich said. “It was funny, though. I was just so confused because I didn’t know much about football, flag football or any of that stuff.”
Maravich declined to name the player, but did say he is a running back.
Luckily for the men’s tennis team, Maravich’s transition from tennis in Croatia to tennis in America was much smoother.
“We play on clay a lot, and here it’s all hard court,” Maravich said. “We play on hard court (in Croatia) as well, but not throughout the whole season. (Adjusting) was not a problem at all.”
Maravich started last season at No. 4 singles, but by the end of the season he had worked his way up to No. 1. Although coach Bruce Berque does not plan on making a decision soon, he did say that he thinks there’s strong chance Maravich will hold that position this year. Either way, Maravich shows little concern.
“I’ll simply try to work hard,” Maravich said. “I don’t really care where I play in the lineup.”
Maravich’s selflessness will be very important this season because the team will have no seniors to provide leadership. Although Berque said the team’s three juniors (Ryan Heller, Brian Hung and Steve Peretz) all posses leadership skills, the coach said that Maravich, the lone sophomore on the team, is the most vocal of all the players, an assessment Maravich agrees with.
“I am naturally (vocal),” Maravich said. “It is a part of my personality. I am not going to hesitate to talk to anyone.”
Maravich is often outspoken in practice.
“I simply talk to (my teammates),” Maravich said. “I try to pump them up so they have the same amount of energy on the court as I do. I am not saying that they are not trying as hard. I am simply more vocal, so from other people’s standpoint, I might seem more energetic.”
Said Heller: “He’s just real intense and competitive all the time which is good because it pushes us to be the same way. And that usually carries over into the matches.”
Being outspoken doesn’t end at practice for Maravich. He is known for expressing his emotions during matches, too.
“I yell a lot – usually ‘dobar,’ which means ‘come on’ in Croatian,” Mandarich said.
Berque said that Maravich’s emotions may have hindered him slightly last year, but he was never too worried about it.
“When he was mad when things weren’t going his way, he tended to rush,” Berque said. “Sometimes he got excited and didn’t think, but his energy is a huge asset. It wasn’t a big problem, and I expect it to be even less of a problem this year. I’d rather have a player with passion.”
Maravich’s teammates also appreciate his enthusiasm.
“I love his intensity,” Heller said. “It’s really easy playing next to him and feeding off his emotions. Just watching him react the way he does, it makes you feel more comfortable out on the court and eases the tension in the match. We also do a lot of court-to-court chatter where we pick each other up when the other was down. It’s just good to know that someone is there for you to give you an extra boost.”