Chuck Merzbacher volleyed balls over the net for senior Jessika Mozia to return back to him as the two prepared for the Courtside Classic this weekend.
The head coach shouted words of encouragement at his pupil, appearing at ease sitting at 399 victories in his career. Merzbacher will go for his 400th victory as a college head coach this weekend, with victories coming from stops at Northern Illinois, Kansas, Ohio State and now Minnesota.
“I think that means you’ve just been coaching too long,” Merzbacher said. “It’s been a good run, good career, and I’ve enjoyed all the relationships with everybody. Winning is just kind of part of it all. I’m just focused in on everybody doing really well that next match. If that becomes No. 400 for me, that’s kind of small potatoes.”
Before settling into a coaching career, Merzbacher was one of the most accomplished tennis players in Minnesota history. His 137 career singles victories are still a program record. Once his college playing days wrapped in 1987, he stayed with the Gophers as an assistant coach.
In 1989 he took over as the head coach of Northern Illinois men’s team and then switched to coaching women’s tennis at Kansas in 1992.
His next coaching job came in the Big Ten, as he spent 1996-2012 coaching women’s tennis at Ohio State. Merzbacher acquired 209 of his career victories with the Buckeyes, giving him the most in Ohio State history before he left for Minnesota in 2012.
“He had a very good team at Ohio State, always did,” said associate head coach Whiteney Taney, who played for Michigan when Merzbacher was at Ohio State. “It was a really great group of girls. They always fought so hard, had great energy. It was always a good match and battle every time we played them.”
Freshman Caitlyn Merzbacher has been around for plenty of her head coach’s 399 victories. Most of the time, though, she’s been around as his daughter, not a player.
“It was fun because I got to watch all of his matches, watch the team practice, went on some trips with them. [I] kind of grew up with college tennis,” Caitlyn Merzbacher said. “It was also kind of hard at the same time because he was gone a lot. There’s no days off if you’re a college tennis coach or in sports in general.”
Coach Merzbacher will have four different opportunities for his team to earn his 400th career victory this weekend. Minnesota plays two duals against DePaul and one dual each against New Mexico and Mississippi State in the Courtside Classic.
“If you work hard, good things come,” Merzbacher said. “It’s almost like this unwritten rule of athletics. It might not come the day you want it or the time that you want it, but if you work hard, good things happen, and that’s what I’ve learned.”