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Domenika Turkovic's work ethic shaped her for new leadership role with ASU women's tennis

The same perseverance that helped the senior transition from Croatia to the U.S. is now being relied on by the Sun Devils for success

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ASU then-junior Domenika Turkovic prepares to hit the ball against Kansas State at the Whiteman Tennis Center on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. ASU won 4-1.

When women's tennis senior Domenika Turkovic transferred to ASU last season, her first impression with sophomore Marianna Argyrokastriti was an ugly one.

In what was the tiebreaker in a friendly tennis match during practice, the game ended with a controversial ball on the line that resulted in an Argyrokastriti victory over Turkovic, leaving her yelling in anger.

"I called the ball out and she got pissed," Argyrokastriti said. "We just got into a fight that I cheated. We didn't get along for a while."

The relationship eventually healed, but it took months.

Heading into a new spring season of competition, the women's tennis roster looks a lot different than it did a year ago, and now Turkovic has been called on to take a new role — to be a leader, a role the Croatia native has never had in her career.

Growing up and competing in Europe, there was never such a thing as playing on a team. She only competed in singles and worked out with a personal coach. 

"It took me a while to get used to it," Turkovic said. "No one prepares you for college tennis. Since it's such an individualistic sport (in Europe), and then you come here (to the U.S.), it's a group thing."

But head coach Sheila McInerney trusted her hardest working player to guide the team after ASU's roster had dwindled from 12 players in 2021 to eight this year.

"She's always been a hard worker but I think her hard work is paying off," McInerney said. "I think she's taken the bull by the horn and done a great job."

To Turkovic, working hard is nothing new. She grew up with two workaholic parents, Vladimir and Lidia. They drove her to tournaments all over the country. Lidia worked multiple jobs to help pay for Turkovic's tennis coaches.

"My parents were always super supportive," Turkovic said. "They always knew what I needed." 

Growing up in Zagreb, Croatia meant cold and long winters with snow and rain. When there was rainfall, she practiced indoors in a carpeted gym. If the skies were clear, she played outside on concrete.

In elementary school, Turkovic played in small Croatian tournaments, but at 12 years old, she wasn't satisfied. Throughout grade school, she competed in international tournaments, competing all over Europe. 

By the time she graduated high school, Turkovic was Croatia's top-ranked junior player and wanted to play tennis in America.

She chose the University of Central Florida, but the transition wasn't a smooth one.

Turkovic had to learn how to play with others, build relationships, understand her role, keep a positive attitude and everything else it takes to play on a team. 

"It is challenging, but I love it," Turkovic said. "Now you have teammates, now you have to cheer for them."

Turkovic also felt a poor connection with the coaching staff at UCF.

"They would always push me to go for my old game that I used to have in Croatia," Turkovic said.

Despite a productive freshman campaign, Turkvoic fell out of the rotation her sophomore year as part of a deep and talented UCF squad ranking No. 20 in the country. 

After COVID-19 cut the season short, Turkovic entered the transfer portal and fell in love with the coaching staff at ASU.

Turkovic has felt more appreciated at ASU. She missed the focus of player development, something that was lost since she left Croatia. 

"Practice was more focused on my game rather than to try to switch it up compared to UCF," Turkovic said. "They understand my game style and help me be a better version of myself."

In ASU's season opener on Monday against NAU, Turkovic went 6-3, 6-1 slotted at the two spot in a 7-0 win.

Turkovic has taken control of her new leadership role and is setting a standard. Her goal with her doubles partner, freshman Patricija Spaka, is to make the NCAA Tournament. As a whole unit, Turkovic wants to bring ASU a conference championship and make a run in the tournament. 

"This team is deep and we can do big things together," Turkovic said.

Turkovic said she plans to use her extra year of eligibility next year after she graduates. From there, Turkovic plans on shifting toward a different goal in her tennis career: coaching. She fell in love with how tennis is played in America and doesn't see herself returning to international competition.

"I just love college tennis so much, and it's so different than pro tennis," she said. 

Argyrokastriti said Turkovic is thriving in her new leadership position, and their fight is a distant memory the two reminisce about. 

"The fact that she didn't have the greatest season last year and she has bounced back this year amazingly is very inspiring, and she's leading the team with her whole attitude," Argyrokastriti said.

The way Turkovic has rallied her team already, especially after a rough first impression, will pay dividends in her future coaching career.

"We call (ourselves) the 'Super Seven,'" Argyrokastriti said. "The connection is much, much better. We feel so much closer to each other. Being out there and fighting for these six girls just feels special."

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