Pleva Finds Home on Tennis Court at Mercer
Windsor, N.J. - When Barb Pleva '03 (Office Systems
Technology) began taking classes at Mercer County Community
College in 1997, her goal was straightforward. All three of
her children were off at college and it was time for Pleva
to earn some college credits of her own. As the office administrator
for her husband's firm, Terra Nova Technical, a commercial
groundwater sampling company in Allentown, she wanted to update
her computer skills and enhance efficiency in the office.
completed her studies in Office Systems Technology in 2003
and earned President's List status for academic excellence.
But now, seven years later, Pleva still finds herself actively
involved at Mercer - not as a student, but as a valued volunteer
coach for women's and men's tennis. She has touched the lives
of many young people, teaching them both tennis and life skills.
"I'm the lucky one," she says. "I get so much
enjoyment out of seeing them get better. You get back what
you give. And I get a lot back."
Pleva's first semester at Mercer coincided with the reinstatement
of the women's tennis program after an 11-year hiatus. A strong
doubles player, she offered to help out at a few practices
before they left for Nationals in May. The team, under then
new Head Coach Marc Vecchiolla, was strong, coming in second
that year in the national tournament. (Vecchiolla is also
the coach for men's tennis, having taken over the reins from
retiring coach Stan Dlugosz in 2008.)
1998, Pleva was asked to join the team. She hesitated, not
wanting to take the place of a younger player. "But they
felt I could help them win," she recalls. "And we
did dominate that fall." Then in the spring, they went
to nationals -- and the Vikings won their first national title.
They did it again the following year.
experience of winning is something Pleva will never forget.
"I had never dreamt of doing anything like this. It's
unusual at any level of a sport to win a national championship."
Pleva, back row, second from right, with the 2004 national champs.
Also pictured are Head Coach Marc Vecchiolla, left, and Assistant
Coach Ralph Bencivengo, far right.
Originally intending to take just a few college
courses, Pleva maintains that "tennis is definitely part of
what kept me at Mercer." Players must maintain a minimum of
twelve credits per semester and, as a member of a winning team,
the season spans over two semesters - with regional matches in the
fall and practice for nationals throughout the spring.
When her playing days ended and Vecchiolla
asked her to be an assistant coach, Pleva was thrilled. "I
had only one question: What do you want me to do?"
Pleva's main assignment is to work with the
beginners, athletes who are developing their games and working their
way into the line-up. She recalls a player from this past season
who was athletic, but had never played tennis before. "She
was so easy to teach. She told me she wants to be back next year
and that she's so glad because tennis is something she will have
for the rest of her life."
Pleva recalls another player who came from
a tennis family, but had not played the game much herself. "She
would climb a fence to return a ball," Pleva said. By the time
she finished her second season, she was an All-American.
Pleva's mothering skills have come in handy.
"I am a calming influence in a nerve-wracking sport. I provide
emotional support. For some players, all they have to do is see
me on the sidelines and it reminds them they have to stay calm."
Pleva's time commitment is significant. She
tries to be at is at every practice and every match. "I very
seldom miss it," she says. Having been a volunteer for the
women for many years, she also took on the role for the men's team
when Vecchiolla took over. With joint practices throughout the year,
she is able to reach more players at the same time.
According to Pleva, the rewards have been
consistent season after season. There have been some real highs
-- including four national titles for the women, the last one in
2004. The men have also had their share of successes, including
trips to nationals and individual titles. Still, in other years,
teams have not been as strong.
But wins don't matter that much to Pleva.
Indeed, this past season's inexperienced women's team didn't win
a single match. But Pleva says it is one of her favorite groups.
"If they are available, they are at practice. They like each
other. They encourage each other and they want to learn. We attract
great student athletes. We are so fortunate at Mercer."
That kind of positive attitude infuses the
program under Vecchiolla, whose philosophy of learning and having
fun is shared by Pleva and Ralph Bencivengo, the other dedicated
assistant coach. "We want them all to play their best and to
be the best person they can be whether they win or lose," Pleva
explains. "We don't allow or condone poor sportsmanship or
bad language. We want them to learn to control their anger and emotions.
The racquet is never to leave their hands. If it does, there are
Looking back on her original reason for coming
to Mercer -- to learn office skills -- Pleva says her experience
couldn't have been better. She learned bookkeeping and data entry,
and how to make templates and use technology that increased her
efficiency. She notes that her professors went out of their way
to support her. "Professors at Mercer want you to succeed,"
With Mercer's flexible scheduling, she was
able to continue working while taking many courses part-time in
the evenings and online. "It was very doable," Pleva said.
Her Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society certificate still hangs on the
wall in her office.
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