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Homecoming happy for USF tennis player

Jackie Spicijaric decided to play closer to home, and she has found success with the Bulls.

By BILL BLITMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


TAMPA -- As a freshman at the University of Kentucky, Jackie Spicijaric had everything she wanted ... almost.

She was at a school away from her home in Wesley Chapel and part of a solid program, but there was something missing.

That something was her happiness and is the reason she decided to transfer home to South Florida and join its women's tennis team and coach Sherry Bedingfield, who initially recruited her as a sophomore.

"When I was in high school, she recruited me. And I said, "Sorry, it's too close,"' Spicijaric said of Bedingfield. "When I called her and told her I wanted to transfer, she just started laughing.

"Part of it was coming back to be so close to my family. I am really close to my family. I go home a couple times a week for dinner. My mom comes to every match. I am close enough that I can just get in my car, go home and get away."

Spicijaric is 16-11 in singles, mostly at No. 5, for the Bulls and 13-7 in doubles. Teammate Natalie Schwartz, who is 5-1 with Spicijaric in doubles, said she is a gritty performer on the court.

"She is aggressive when she wants to be," Schwartz said. "I guess she likes to come back a lot because she has saved some matches and we need that a lot. She pulls out her singles matches, and we win."

Additionally, Bedingfield said Spicijaric plays a good all-around game.

"She has solid ground strokes, and she is very smart on the court," she said. "She plays an all-court game.

"She looks to come to the net when she plays, and she has good volleys. She needs to continue to match her toughness with her confidence."

Spicijaric said she would like to improve her power.

"I am small," the 5-foot-4 Spicijaric said. "It is an advantage because I am quick, but it is a disadvantage because I have a small frame and am not going to overpower someone."

Spicijaric was born in Panama City, Panama, before her family moved to New Jersey.

She and her family lived across the street from a country club, and she got into Tiny Tots at the recommendation of the head professional.

She showed progress and began playing in tournaments when she was 10.

Following the recommendation of many coaches, Spicijaric and her family moved to Florida, where she attended Saddlebrook Academy.

"I used to go to tennis camp over the summer, and Saddlebrook was like our sort," she said. "Every other place really didn't have a family atmosphere.

"My parents said if they were going to be there, they had to like it, too."

Spicijaric said her time at Saddlebrook was valuable, especially when she did an internship when she had intentions of majoring in kinesiology.

"I did an internship as a fitness trainer at Saddlebrook, and I worked with (Martina) Hingis," she said.

"It was real nice because being out there at Saddlebrook, all the pros come in there. I really enjoy watching Martina Hingis. I really do."

When she is not on the tennis court, she enjoys having fun or just relaxing and spending quality time with herself.

"I like just hanging out," she said. "I spend time with my family and go to the pool, and I like going out to eat. I also like cooking. I watch the cooking show all the time.

"Whatever anyone wants to do, I will usually do. I like sleeping, too."

Spicijaric and her teammates will not have much time to sleep this weekend as they play in the Conference USA Tournament at the USF Tennis Complex.

The No. 2-seeded Bulls play Southern Miss at 9 a.m. today.

Spicijaric said the team is close, and that surprises her because they spend so much time together.

"When you are around each other so much and you don't get sick of them, that is a great feeling," she said.

Bedingfield said the closeness of the team is a great asset to its success.

"I think one of the reasons why we are successful is because we may not have the top talent, but we have a very cohesive group," she said. "I think on the court, there is a sense of urgency to fight for each other. I think that is their reception to her ability to conform. She is the new one.

"It was an easy fit, and it is all to my gain."

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