When other coaches ask Missouri tennis coach Blake Starkey about the international players on his team, his response is always the same.
There’s one from Slovenia, three from the Czech Republic and one from Mississippi.
Mary Barry, a junior from Jackson, Miss., has refined her game and leads Missouri (7-5, 1-4) into a pair of Big 12 Conference matches this weekend at the Green Tennis Center.
Missouri, ranked 48th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll, hosts 75th-ranked Texas Tech (5-2, 1-1) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers play 35th-ranked Baylor (3-7, 1-1) at noon Sunday.
“I’ve had an up-and-down two years,” Barry said. “I’ve changed my mindset and I think I’ve grown up a little from my freshman year. I played like a freshman when I first came in.”
Starkey said Barry was jittery as a freshman. She put too much pressure on herself and focused on the losses. She needed time to adjust, relax and work through the nerves. In addition, Barry spent extra time working on the specifics of her game outside of practice.
This fine-tuning is reflected in her attitude on the court. She’s more focused. She’s more consistent. She’s more comfortable.
“I kind of walked into this,” Barry said. “I went out there not knowing what was going on. Now I feel like I am playing a lot better and it’s nice to have recognition that what you’ve been doing is paying off.”
Barry earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors the last week of February.
Starkey also recognizes the difference.
“She’s playing like what I recruited,” Starkey said. “She’s pumping her fist and even the way she calls out, out (in a southern accent), it’s like she’s making fun of her opponent. As a competitor, she is very fiery. She’s the nicest kid in the world off the court, but when she goes out there she can be kind of mean on the court.”
Barry has been on the court since she was 4. She started playing in tournaments at 9.
In high school, she participated in club play on the USTA team.
“I don’t know what to do when I don’t have to go out to practice,” Barry said. “Sometimes I’m waiting for (practice) to be over and I’m like, ‘Yes.’ Then I’m sitting there on my couch and I’m like, ‘OK, I think I’ll go play tennis.’ I really honestly don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have tennis to go to.”
Starkey sees similarities between Barry and freshman Erika Josbena. Josbena lost a pair of close matches at No. 6 singles that cost Missouri wins against Colorado and Iowa.
“I think right now she’s carrying that around with her,” Starkey said. “I’ve been there before as a player and that’s a hard thing to go through. She may not be aware of it, but there’s a lot of growth going on right now and she’s actually becoming a lot tougher.
“For her it hurts and she just doesn’t see it. I do because I’ve been through it with so many players over the years. She’s not far off.”
Injuries have also hurt the Tigers, who had a light week of practice as Urska Juric (right knee), Hana Kraftova (left knee), Yelena Olshanskaya (left knee) and Barry (back) recuperated.