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Sept. 8, 2004

A quick glance at the 2005 Ohio State women’s tennis roster shows four starters lost from 2004, but head coach Chuck Merzbacher does not consider his team to be rebuilding.

Instead, he said losing four seniors opens up opportunities for returning players to vie for spots in the starting lineup. Merzbacher said his team last year, which finished second in the final Big Ten standings thanks to a run to the final match at the Big Ten championship and also advanced to the second round of the NCAA championship, was deeper than some of his recent squads. Practices featured competition for the lower spots in the lineup and Merzbacher said this season he expects that competition to continue as his seven returning letterwinners look to move up and four newcomers hope to be included in the mix.

“Some people might see it as a rebuilding year, but I’m really looking forward to it,” Merzbacher said. “There are a lot of kids on the team who have the potential to step up. We’ll compete once again for the Big Ten and postseason.”

Development is the most important aspect to his program, Merzbacher said.

“We’ve always gotten players who we feel like are going to develop and grow with the program,” Merzbacher said. “That is kind of how it is every year, except for when we had Kristy Dascoli, who played No. 1 as a freshman to a senior. It’s really always been people playing, gaining experience and moving up the lineup. This year there just happens to be more spots because we had three seniors at the top (in singles). It’s just not as gradual.”

Stepping Up In Singles
Emily DeCamilla (Sr., Sacramento, Calif./Maryland) led the team with 18 wins, mostly at the No. 4 position, last season as a junior on her way to being named the team’s Most Valuable Player. Merzbacher cited her as a perfect example of the kind of steadily improving player his program produces. He said she is the leading candidate to play at the top of the lineup after a determined summer of hard work.

“She had a great junior year,” Merzbacher said. “I think she’s excited about playing higher in the lineup. She has a very big game. She can play with anyone in the nation. I’m looking forward to her leading the way.”

Following DeCamilla will likely be fellow seniors Lindsey Adams (Sr., Mercer Island, Wash./Mercer Island) and Lindsay Bryan (Sr., New Orleans, La./Ursuline Academy). Adams was a consistent performer throughout the middle of the lineup for the entire season, finishing tied with DeCamilla with 18 wins. In the last month of the season, Bryan entered the lineup at No. 6 won six matches while losing only once.

“Lindsay Bryan was just very clutch last year at the end,” Merzbacher said. “She just finds a way to win.”

He said she is getting stronger and with that strength comes more consistency.

As a freshman, Kristin Messmer (So., Lutherville, Md./McDonogh), started 19 matches and led the team in victories for much of the season before giving way to Bryan. Merzbacher said he thought Messmer was not adjusted to the grind of a college season and wore down toward the end of last year, but he expects her to come back strong in her sophomore campaign.

As candidates to fill the remaining spots, Merzbacher mentioned senior Meredith Vincent (Sr., Cincinnati, Ohio/Virginia Tech) and sophomores Anna Volberg (So.,Toledo, Ohio/St. Ursula) and Sonia Ruzimovsky (So., Brooklyn, N.Y.,/Brooklyn Technical). Vincent is in her second year at Ohio State, but has previous experience playing at the top of the lineup during two years at Virginia Tech. Volberg, a former Ohio state champion in high school, and Ruzimovsky, undefeated in high school and former No. 1 ranked player in New York City, both fought injuries as freshmen but should be ready for the spring season.

Merzbacher also said he expects incoming freshman Caitlin O’Keefe (Fr., Troy, Mich./Troy) to have an excellent chance to earn a spot.

“I think Caitlin is going to show leadership right off the bat,” Merzbacher said. “If she’s not starting, then everyone else is playing pretty well. She’s a good player.”

Ultimately, he said the fall tournament schedule would be very important in determining who plays where to begin the spring season.

“I could go through the whole roster and make an argument for who could play,” Merabacher said. “But that’s what the fall is for, so we can see what people can do.”

New Spots Up For Grabs in Doubles
In addition to filling three of the Top 4 positions in singles, the departed Buckeye seniors comprised all of the four spots in the Top 2 positions in doubles.

Merzbacher still expects to have a strong doubles lineup.

“We’ve always had really good doubles practices because that’s really been an emphasis,” Merzbacher said. “So the kids who are good doubles players but haven’t had a chance to play are going to get a chance.”

Of the returning Buckeyes, Adams, DeCamilla and Vincent have the most experience. Adams started 26 dual matches in 2004, including all 10 Big Ten contests, while DeCamilla competed in 15 duals and nine Big Ten matches. Vincent started 11 dual matches, two in Big Ten play.

“I was really pleased with Lindsey Adams and Emily DeCamilla,” Merzbacher said. “I think they have the potential to be a really good team if we keep them together.”

Merzbacher said he expected Emily Howard (Jr., Akron, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) to have a good chance to break into the doubles lineup. Of the younger players, Merzbacher said Messmer has some excellent doubles credentials from her career in junior tennis, while O’Keefe is solid as well.

“They’ve seen good doubles because they’ve been around so much success that I think the kids who end up starting are going to be pretty solid,” Merzbacher said. “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about having three solid teams.”

Newcomers To Challenge Also
O’Keefe is just one member of Merzbacher’s 2004 recruiting class who will challenge for a spot in the starting lineup. Along with O’Keefe, a four-time state champion in Michigan, the Buckeyes welcome Silvia Prajescu (Dollard-Des-Orneaux, Quebec/Des-Sources), Nidhi Shah (Mumbai, India/Mithibai College) and Sara Kinning (Grand Blanc, Mich./Powers Catholic).

Prajescu was ranked No. 5 in Canada for Under-16 in 2002 and finished in the Top 10 at the Under-16 Singles National Indoor Championships in Canada while Shah has been ranked as high as 274 in singles and 276 in doubles by the International Tennis Federation, the world governing body of tennis. Kinning is a walk-on Merzbacher expects to add depth.

Home, For a Change
Though the Buckeyes have been road warriors for the past few seasons, the 2005 team will play the majority of its matches in 2005 on familiar turf.

Merzbacher said his teams played a lot of matches on the road recently, including 13 of 22 last season, in order to prepare themselves for the Big Ten and NCAA championships at season’s end. Though that led to some tough mid-season stretches, including a 10-match road trip in the middle of 2004, Merzbacher said the team became “road tough.” He said he thought the experience paid off for his seniors as they led the team to a runner-up finish in the Big Ten championship at Northwestern and the program’s second NCAA tournament victory.

This season, however, with a young squad, Merzbacher is glad to have more home matches.

“Last year’s team definitely paid its dues to get home matches for this year,” Merzbacher said.

The season opens with a visit from perennial power Notre Dame, a 5-2 winner over Ohio State in South Bend, Ind., last season. Merzbacher said the Irish always make for a big match. He also said he looks forward to a five-match stretch in February in which the Buckeyes face William and Mary, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky. Four of those five were 2004 NCAA Championship qualifiers. The matches with the Tribe, Yellow Jackets, Tigers and Wildcats all will be played in Columbus.

“I really like that stretch of our non-conference schedule,” Merzbacher said. “It’s going to be fun, really fun.”

Once the Buckeyes begin Big Ten play, they will face two unique challenges: six other teams coming off NCAA championship appearances and no travel partner. In addition to the Buckeyes, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Northwestern made the tournament last season. Merzbacher said the Wildcats, who earned their sixth-consecutive Big Ten title by defeating Ohio State in the final match at the 2004 Big Ten Championship, will be strong again. He also said the rest of the conference should be very competitive again, especially once April rolls around.

The lack of a travel partner is a first for the Buckeyes. Merzbacher said it will provide an extra challenge to his team because they will have some weekends in which they will play a pair of matches while their opponents will be playing only one.

“It will be a little tougher for us, but we’ll handle it,” Merzbacher said.