Kling is Ready to Lead Talented Blue Demons
Sept. 25, 2012
Ardizzone, the DePaul women’s tennis coach, was at a tournament in Romania last year recruiting Rebeca Mitrea when he stumbled across the athletic Kling.
“I remember thinking to myself: ‘Oh please, let me get this kid,’” Ardizzone said about his first impression of the tennis standout from Heilbronn, Germany.
“I let her see my passion. I was at the courts in Romania 14 hours a day. I just never leave. She realized this guy is really into it.”
Something about their first meeting struck a chord within Kling.
“I met Mark in August at an ITF tournament in Romania,” Kling said. “I knew (Blue Demon sophomore) Rebeca Mitrea, and the tournament was in her hometown. Mark was watching Rebeca and saw me. I talked to him once, and that was enough to convince me.
“He makes it sound so good to play tennis at DePaul. We are all one team and everyone helps each other out. I liked the ambitions he has for his program. I’m ambitious, too.
“We want to all try and accomplish his goal of getting to the NCAA tournament one more time. He is such a nice guy. I’m a quiet type of person. I’m a good listener and he did the talking. He really understands European tennis players.”
Last November, this only child told an apprehensive set of parents that she was setting sail for America to get a college education and play Division I tennis at DePaul. She reassured them that her friend Mitrea was also coming to Lincoln Park along with another German tennis player, Carolin Neumann.
Kling’s first trip to the USA began with a nine-hour connecting flight on New Year’s Eve. Ardizzone was there to greet her at O’Hare Airport, and that first night, she saw her first Wolves hockey game.
On the long journey, her mind began to wander. She wondered about her new teammates. Are they nice? Where would she fit in? What are practices like? How will school go?
Somewhere in that whirlwind of signing up for classes, trying to understand a foreign language and sampling corn on the cob and deep-dish pizza for the first time, Kling managed to play some of the best tennis of her life.
“It was nothing short of amazing the way she came in January, played No. 1 singles for a good team and made all the adjustments to life in another country,” Ardizzone said. “She’s the most athletic kid I’ve ever had here in my 16 years.
“I knew she could be the best on our team, but I didn’t expect it so soon. I didn’t know when the team concept would kick in. She has done a great job with it.”
So well that Kling was sitting in her dorm room last spring when she got a text from Ardizzone. It read: “You are the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year.”
“I was really surprised I got it,” Kling said. “To finish my first year like that was so exciting. I had just arrived from Germany and everything was happening so fast. It felt like I had just got here to a new school, a new life.
“I got hurt at the end of last season. We only had seven players and two others were also injured, so I had to continue playing and practicing. The BIG EAST award was like a reward, giving me back all that I had put into the season.
“I wanted to share the award with my teammates. You only get an award like that when the team does well."
Kling was the BIG EAST Women’s Tennis Player of the Week on Feb. 14 and finished with a 6-2 singles record in league play. She was 15-9 overall in singles and 15-8 in doubles with Gia McKnight.
At the age of 17, Kling received an award in Germany as one of the top two female players in her region.
“That was an individual award,” she said. “The BIG EAST award means more because of the team.”
The Blue Demons open their season on Friday at the DePaul Invitational in Romeoville.
“Our team is way stronger than last year,” Ardizzone said. “In my 16 years at DePaul, I’ve never had a harder time filling out a lineup. There are nine players that could make the lineup, and I’ve never had a more talented and aggressive team.”
There’s also the incoming recruiting class.
“Matea Cutura from Croatia is extremely talented,” Ardizzone said of the 16-U and 18-U national Croatian champion who finished second in the Croatian Senior National Championship. “She is learning how to play hard every minute of every day, and I won’t let up on her.
“It’s a different practice structure in Europe. She is not used to someone watching every ball she hits. Matea is going to be one of the top players in the Midwest.”
Among the other freshmen, Ana Vladutu was ranked as high as No. 32 in Romania while Zaina Sufi was the Arizona singles and doubles state champion as a junior and won the 2012 USTA Southwest Juniors doubles title. Jarret Fisher was a Texas state semifinalist and Zhavia Gray of south suburban Illiana Christian was an IHSA state finalist last season.
And they’re all going to follow the lead of Kling, who learns more about her home away from home every day.
“I didn’t like English in school,” Kling said. “I preferred Latin and took my final exam in Latin. English was my worst subject.
“But I knew that I needed to learn the language. Soon as I got here, all my teammates helped me with pronunciation and grammar mistakes. Tracy Moss and everyone in Athletics Academic Advising helped me so much to get better in English and in writing papers.
“Now, I speak more fluently and don’t have to think about the words so much. They just come. I like to speak English now.”
Kling believes that the tennis team’s diversity is its strength. There are two players each from Germany and Romania and one each from Croatia and Spain. Two more players are from Arizona and one from Texas.
“All of us from Europe---we are really on our own,” Kling said. “And it’s not like the American players are that close to home.
“That’s why we’re such a good tennis team. All of us are so close. We don’t have anybody else here.”
Kling is ready for the season to begin.
“Going into the 2012-13 season, I’m ranked No. 73 in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings in singles,” she said. “Even though I’ve played one season, I will still be nervous.
“It’s a good kind of pressure trying to follow up what I did last year. You need pressure to get better.”