Three of the four freshman for IU women's tennis this year aren't from the United States.
Xiaowei “Rose” Hu comes all the way from Beijing, China. Mila Mejic is from Subotica, Serbia, and Alexandra Stailculescu hails from Bucharest, Romania.
For them, so much about American tennis and life is different than it is back home.
“It’s really different,” Staiculescu said. “The courts are different, I grew up playing on clay and it was a huge switch. It’s more intense also. Tennis is more of an individual sport, but now that you’re on a team you kind of help each other."
IU is the first tennis team that Staiculescu has played on, she said. Growing up, her father would take her to individual tournaments with far less screaming and cheering than the college matches she is now playing in.
IU head coach Ramiro Azcui said for some of the freshmen, hearing IU’s opponents on the schedule is just hearing the name of a school. They don’t know anything about what level of play to expect, putting extra emphasis on coaches teaching and developing the young players.
Staiculescu said the coaches and upperclassmen have helped her and the other freshmen prepare for upcoming teams. Even so, she prefers focusing on herself and not the opponent.
"I don’t really mind not knowing how my opponent is playing,” Staiculescu said. “You just have to focus on your game and you’ll be fine.”
Alongside the three freshmen from outside the country is freshman Lexi Kubas, an Ellington, Connecticut, native. She also found college tennis to be different than what she is used to.
Kubas has been sidelined with an injury for the start of this season but has begun practicing and looks to be making a return soon.
The four freshmen make up half of IU’s eight-player roster. Last season, the Hoosiers only had one freshman.
With six singles matches and three doubles matches in each dual match, IU's freshmen have and will continue to be a big factor in IU's success this season. So far, all besides Kubas have played substantial matches in both singles and doubles for IU.
For Hu, Mejic and Staiculescu, having an American like Kubas alongside them has been helpful.
“It was a little bit of a shock when we played our first match,” Staiculescu said. “Lexi kind of knew what college matches looked like and she knew the schools we didn’t know. It’s been helpful.”
IU's upperclassmen have helped the freshmen get acclimated to the college tennis landscape as well, and have enjoyed doing so.
"It's been fun to mentor them and kind of experience freshman year all over again," senior Michelle McKamey said."It's taken a little bit for them to not only get accustomed to tennis, but also with college because that's an adjustment for any student."
With the backing of the older players, coaches and each other, the freshmen are focused on taking it one step at a time and getting better everyday.
“I’m learning what it’s like to feel what they are going through on the court,” Kubas said. “They have grown tremendously. They’ve all done so well in their matches already. We have a long way to go, but we’re improving everyday.”
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