It’s not usual to have an international player on a college team in the United States. However, it is unusual to have only one American on a college team in the U.S.
Sam Houston State University’s tennis team has eight players, with seven of the eight international students.
With the addition of three new faces to his squad, head coach Jim Giachino said he wasn’t sure what his team’s “identity” would be coming into the 2013 fall season.
“They determine who they want to be as a group through the interaction they have with one another,” Giachino said. “I see who they want to become.”
Australian freshman Isabella Costa said she knew things wouldn’t be the same when she arrived in Huntsville in August. But with Australian teammates Kayla Stevenson and Natalie Petaia, her cultural shock wasn’t as great as she expected.
“It felt like coming into a familiar environment because it was a big change coming from Australia to America,” Costa said. “When you come into an environment, you have to be very accepting because it’s you coming into the environment.
Although the diverse squad may seem too diverse to bond with each other, the team describes themselves as just another family.
With two English players, one player from Nambia, a Columbian and an American to round out the team for SHSU, sophomore Maddie Mortimore said the Bearkats blend like any other team.
As a Bearkat, Mortimore – who hails from England – has asserted herself fifth in Southland Conference singles matches as a true freshman. Although she competes in singles tournaments, Mortimore said the blend of cultures has strengthened the squad’s relationship as teammates and friends.
“Even though we all have cultural differences, we all really blend well as a team,” she said. “We’re all hard workers, friendly, and those traits allow us to get along well.”
Yet the international presence isn’t held to just the players.
Assistant coach Peta Taylor flew to Huntsville in 2004 from her home country of Australia and has been a part of the team as a player, graduate assistant and coach. In her nine years involved with the tennis team, she’s seen a total of four Americans circulate through the program with international players composing the rest. Taylor said although thousands of miles separate the players from their homes, it hasn’t hindered the squad from working well with one another.
“The one thing we have in common is family,” she said. “We all come together because we have no one else. All our family is back at our home country.”
Currently Montgomery High School graduate and Louisiana-Lafayette transfer Bailey Van Dyke is the sole American on the Bearkats’ squad. Van Dyke said her time on SHSU’s tennis team is an experience she “wouldn’t trade for anything.”
“I love being able to experience different cultures and the way people are because I haven’t left the south,” she said.
Van Dyke added her experience as a freshman player at Louisiana-Lafayette has helped her appreciate the family values that exists with the SHSU squad. While she enjoys the exposure to other cultures, she said it’s the relationships she’s created with her team that has strengthened her as a teammate, and with those relationships, Van Dyke said she sees her role to help incoming international players experiencing culture shock.
“Since they don’t have their family we turn to each other for that,” she said. “I transferred states and had to make all new friends. I can’t imagining transferring countries.”
Giachino said he has witnessed the team grow together with each season while possessing every aspect of a family – a trait he said is the most rewarding achievement. Giachino added he doesn’t think about the cultural side of things when it comes to his squad because of their unity and intimacy with each other.
“We’re people,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what your beliefs are. None of that should matter anymore. All we should care about is ‘Am I being the best person I can be?'”