Head coach Chuck Merzbacher has had a particular talented tennis player on his recruiting radar since she was 8 years old.
Merzbacher kept tabs on the tennis player as she competed throughout the years, knew she excelled in the classroom and, once he came to Minnesota, figured she’d be a nice addition to the Gophers.
But when it came to recruiting her for the 2015-16 season, he did his best to distance himself so the recruit would make her own decision.
Because the touted recruit is his daughter, Caitlyn, a two-time singles champion at Edina High School who is one of the best players in the state. Caitlyn Merzbacher committed to the University of Minnesota on Nov. 20.
“I think I just wanted her to want to come to Minnesota on her own,” Chuck Merzbacher said. “My job was really to just say, ‘Caitlyn, go and look, because you [already] know what’s here.’”
So that’s what she did. Caitlyn Merzbacher looked at schools across the country.
“It was kind of hard not to be biased toward Minnesota,” Caitlyn said. “I loved it so much as soon as I moved here. I tried to just have an open mind with the other schools.”
After an official visit and a brief conversation with her dad, Caitlyn had a hunch that Minnesota was the right choice.
But instead of calling her dad about her decision, she sent an email to him and associate head coach Whitney Taney to keep communication formal.
“I wrote an email because if I talked about it with my dad or Whitney, I wasn’t sure how seriously they’d take it,” Caitlyn Merzbacher said.
Her decision to stay close to home made her mother, Cherie Merzbacher, happy.
Though she wasn’t involved in the recruiting process, Cherie hoped all along her daughter would play for the Gophers.
“I stayed out of it and prayed that she was going to stay close to home,” Cherie said.
She got her daughter a Gophers cake on the night she made her commitment.
And with the recruiting process completed, Caitlyn is now eager to play for her dad at Minnesota.
“I’ve never had my dad for a coach in a team environment,” she said. “But I’m excited. He knows my game and how I like to practice … and I think that’s going to help a lot.”
But she didn’t choose Minnesota for that reason alone.
The University’s Baseline Tennis Center and the Carlson School of Management were also strong factors in her decision, Caitlyn said.
She was in high school when her father took over the head coaching position at Minnesota, which caused her to transfer to Edina High School, where she spent two years.
In addition to her individual success, the Hornets won team state championships in both of her seasons at the high school.
When it comes to college, Caitlyn Merzbacher is following in her father’s footsteps.
Her dad was a three-time All-Big Ten selection at Minnesota.
Still, Chuck Merzbacher doesn’t want Caitlyn’s collegiate tennis career to be viewed as a product of a family connection.
“I had my day here. I loved it and everything about the University,” he said. “But this is going to be her experience.”
And he’s confident Caitlyn will make a name for herself during her time with the Gophers, rather than follow in his footsteps.
The third-year coach said she will likely assist the Gophers right away in doubles.
“She’s one of the best doubles players in the Midwest, if not the country,” Chuck Merzbacher said.
To all the parents of his players, he says, he’ll “treat your kid like I treat my daughter.”
But with 11 players vying for six starting spots, Caitlyn won’t earn a starting spot just because she actually is the coach’s daughter.
“I want her to have a fair shot at everything,” Chuck Merzbacher said. “She’s worked really hard, so I’m not going to make it overly hard for her. But I’m not going to make it easier for her, either.”
And that’s just fine with Caitlyn.
“If anything, I want him to go harder on me,” she said. “I think I have to prove myself even more to be in the lineup. I want my teammates to think that I earned it.”