By Stephanie Thiel
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Transitioning to college life, adjusting to a different climate, and being a part of a nationally-ranked tennis program. This is just a glympse of what it is like in Missouri freshman Danielle Day's shoes.
But luckily, she didn't have to do it alone. Day followed fellow club-member Jamie Mera to Columbia, Mo., and the freshman pair has helped the Mizzou tennis program consistently stay among the national rankings for the first time in years.
Day and Mera both hail from Tampa, Fla. Mera attended Chamberlin High, while Day took classes at home through Florida Virtual. The girls started playing together over three years ago at the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center where they were instructed by Alex Golub, and immediately began their friendship.
When Mera committed to Missouri in the fall of 2007, tennis head coach Blake Starkey asked her about other players from Florida to consider. Starkey traveled to the Sunshine State and after being impressed by what he saw, he offered Day a scholarship. Day committed to MU in the summer of 2008, and would surpass her final semester of home-schooling to enter her first classroom in January of 2009 in Columbia.
First on campus, Mera went 8-4 in singles during MU's fall tournament play and paired with Mallory Weber to tie teammates Jessica Giuggioli and Kaitlyn Ritchie for the best doubles record at 9-3. With a lighter fall season schedule, Mera's adjustment was admittedly a little easier than Day's would be, and was able to give her some advice on what to expect when coming to college.
"I didn't really know what to expect. I had no idea," said Day. "She (Mera) really prepared me. I rely on her a lot. I'm still constantly asking her questions."
The girls spoke back and forth over the phone, and in December when Day visited campus she stayed with Mera.
"There's a lot of things going into college that you don't think about or don't prepare for. I knew it was going to be really hard, especially the time that she was coming up," said Mera. "Coming from being home-schooled to full-time classrooms, she was coming in right when we started our season. I had a whole semester to figure stuff out."
At just 17-years-old, Day became the newest addition to Starkey's Tigers. The hardest part? (Besides an almost 20-degree drop in the average daily temperature.)
"Actually going to class and following your schedule," she said. "Figuring out where everything is and getting a routine down has been a really big challenge for me. At first it was difficult."
Though she admits it was a little challenging to adjust to a college class schedule and tennis practices, Day seems to be doing well. She made her Tiger debut in her hometown at the Johan Kriek Tennis Classic going 4-0 at the tournament.
Entering Big 12 play, both freshmen sport a team-best 9-3 record this spring and play with the poise and confidence you would expect from seniors. Mera has most recently stepped into the No. 1 singles spot, while Day currently occupies the No. 4 singles position. Though they don't play together, the pair gets the job done in doubles as well.
"I didn't expect to play doubles," said Mera. "I've never really played doubles."
On the season, her and Weber have held down the No. 1 spot for the Tigers and recently took down the 25th-ranked Vanja Corovic and Marija Milic of Texas. Day and doubles partner Sofia Ayala have racked up a 6-3 record against conference opponents, and have posted a 12-5 overall record in 2009. Both marks are team highs.
Though the competition is a little bigger than either girl was used to in junior tennis, intimidation doesn't seem to be a factor. Even knowing they are part of one of the best squads Mizzou has seen in years, the hype doesn't go to their heads.
"It's great. I feel like we should be, so it's accurate," Mera said when asked about MU's national ranking. "We work really hard. We have so many good players on the team. I think we should be ranked."
Once school concludes in May, the pair will travel back to Tampa for the summer to train until the fall semester begins. Starkey admits to seeing both girls develop their game to a new level.
"Tennis is such a bigger part of my life now," said Mera. "I'm playing better now than I ever had, and it feels really good."
Already seeing such an improvement, both girls know this year is only the beginning and are proud to be a part of the nationally-ranked squad. Over their four-year careers, Starkey and Mizzou tennis fans are looking forward to seeing the two continue to take the Tiger tennis program to new heights.