When Murkel Dellien (Bolivia) and Marius Frosa (Romania) arrived at Wichita State to play tennis at the start of 2017, neither knew any English.
So when they were paired together on doubles that spring, communication was difficult. They used the little English they knew, plus hand signals to communicate on the court, but success came right away because of a natural fit with their games.
Two years later, Dellien and Frosa are just the second WSU doubles tandem since 1983 to reach the NCAA Doubles Championships. They open play in Orlando, Fla. on Tuesday when Dellien and Frosa, currently ranked No. 35 in the latest ITA-Oracle rankings, play Oklahoma’s Alex Bakshi and Stefano Tsorotiotis in the round of 32.
The WSU women’s team also will be represented, as the doubles pair of No. 31-ranked Marta Bellucco and Fatima Bizhukova also play Tuesday in Orlando against Oklahoma State’s No. 30-ranked Sofia Blanco and Catherine Gulihur.
“Neither of them had a common language, so I don’t even know how much they were communicating early on,” WSU men’s coach Danny Bryan said. “Their style of play has just always meshed well. It’s been pretty cool to see how well they’ve done together and now they’re in this high-level tournament. It’s a really good accomplishment for them and they understand they have a chance to make a run.”
Dellien and Frosa, both juniors, are a combined 29-11 in doubles play the last three years. But this season has been their best together, as they rattled off nine straight victories after teaming up for the first time this season in mid-March before falling in a tiebreaker to the No. 18 team from Central Florida in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament.
The two have since moved in together and become close friends, which they say help their chemistry on the court.
“All of the stuff I do good on the court helps (Frosa) and all of the stuff he does good on the court helps me,” Dellien said. “If I’m not playing my best tennis, then he picks me up. I think that’s key for a good team. We have that good friendship on and off the court and it shows.”
Bryan still chuckles about the way this partnership came together.
He remembers sending a Facebook message to Frosa, who was at the time in Galati, Romania, asking if he was interested in playing college tennis in the United States. Frosa reply was simple. “Yes, I will come,” he wrote to Bryan before he had talked to him about the scholarship offer or any details.
“I thought it was a joke, to be honest with you,” Bryan said. “Sometimes foreign guys get so many messages about playing collegiate tennis that they start messing around. But he was serious. That was definitely the simplest recruiting I’ve ever done.”
But with Frosa in, Bryan knew he needed to bring in another talented player to improve WSU’s doubles play. From his time at LSU, Bryan knew of Murkel in Bolivia and reached out and the two quickly discovered it was a good fit.
They won their first three matches playing together in 2017 as WSU’s No. 3 doubles team and quickly moved up the lineup. They’ve played at the top spot in doubles the past two seasons and reeled off nine straight victories this spring, including two wins over top-100 opponents and peaked at No. 25 in the national rankings.
“When Marius is able to use his forehand, he can hit the ball down at people’s feet and then Murkel does a great job of coming in and crashing the net when they volley up,” Bryan said. “They apply a lot of pressure. They both return pretty well and they’re both capable of serving at a very high level too. That’s their key this week, they need to get their serves locked in and get their timing down.”
They came to WSU as good individual tennis players, but now they’ve come together to form a good doubles team.
Dellien and Frosa look to become just the fourth doubles team in WSU program history to notch a victory at the NCAA Championships.
“We have a lot of confidence right now and we are playing our best tennis,” Dellien said. “Now that we have been given a chance, I think we will do pretty well.”