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Serving it homestyle

Tigers ignore international trend, place focus on Missouri players
Thursday, October 12, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:17 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Her former classmates stop her on campus and gape like they have seen a ghost.

They say they thought she was still in Texas.

Missouri women’s tennis player Raquel Wagner has returned to her home state for her sophomore season. Her transfer from Texas A&M has reunited her with her teammate and childhood friend, senior Amanda Pratzel.

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MU senior Amanda Pratzel is one of four Tigers from the state of Missouri. She started college at Oklahoma, before going to Missouri State and eventually winding up with the Tigers. She grew up playing with fellow Tigers’ transfer Raquel Wagner.

(JERONIMO NISA/Missourian)

Pratzel and Wagner are two of the four Missouri natives on the women’s tennis team. The team’s roster is not typical. All the Big 12 Conference schools, except for Missouri and Iowa State, have at least three international players on their rosters. Fifty-four percent of Big 12 women’s tennis players (53 out of 99) are international. The Tigers have only one international player, junior Charlotte Bellis from New Zealand, on their eight-woman roster.

The prevalence of Missouri natives on the women’s tennis team benefits recruiting. Rival Big 12 Conference schools are no longer stealing homegrown talent, Missouri coach Blake Starkey said.

Starkey said he will continue to recruit close to home.

“My pipeline is going to be right in the Midwest,” he said, “and we’re going to be good that way.”

Starkey said he expects his philosophy to strengthen the team.

“If girls have grown up competing against each growing up,” he said, “there is a deeper bond and a deeper friendship when they’re on the same team.”

Wagner transferred to Missouri from Texas A&M this summer. She has no regrets. She wants the Tigers to defeat the Aggies in football on Saturday.

People are still finding out she is here.

“The great question is, ‘Do you go here?’” Wagner said.

“‘No, I’m just hanging out on campus,’” she said, offering a sarcastic response.

Pratzel was shocked to see Wagner as well. She hadn’t talked to Wagner in several years after they spent their childhood together.

The two friends developed their skills at the Sunset Tennis Center in St. Louis. Pratzel first picked up a racket when she was 6. Wagner joined her two years later. They practiced in clinics and traveled to tournaments. They even shared the Sunset Club Players of the Month award once for their improvement.

The two could not avoid competing against each other in such an individual sport. They faced off in the first round of the 2001 Class 4A high school state singles tournament. Pratzel won 6-1, 6-1. She beat current Missouri teammate Chrissy Svetlic 6-1, 6-3, in the second round.

Like Wagner, both Svetlic and Pratzel transferred to Missouri. Svetlic started at Northern Illinois, and Pratzel bounced from Oklahoma to Missouri State to Missouri.

Wagner and Pratzel knew all about the program here. Starkey coached both of them as junior players on the United States Tennis Association Missouri Valley Fed Cup team, featuring the best 18-and-under girls’ players from Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri.

Starkey tried to recruit both players. Wagner limited her choices to Texan universities, and Pratzel headed southwest to Oklahoma.

Starkey is directing them once again, and he has always considered them Tigers.

“(Wagner) was maroon and white, and I would kind look at her and go, ‘You should be in black and gold,’” he said. “It was the same thing with (Pratzel) when she was at Oklahoma.”

Once Starkey learned that both were interested in transferring, he contacted them. Wagner said Starkey presented her with an offer she couldn’t decline. She realized how great the school was after initially ignoring it.

The team will play at home this weekend for the first time this season. The Mizzou Invitational will take place from Friday to Sunday at the Green Tennis Center. The tournament will feature Missouri, Saint Louis University, Illinois and Iowa State.

The team’s fall schedule focuses on invitational tournaments, rather than the winterschedule’s dual matches. The Tigers have traveled to St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Manhattan, Kan., so far this season.


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