Wichita State Shockers

WSU tennis players learn, grow together

Sometimes being part of a tennis team is helpful for all the typical reasons.

"In the weight room we had really big challenges, because the weights were so heavy," said Valerie Brockman, a freshman from Germany. "You think you cannot do this rep any more. Then all your teammates scream on you, and then you do it again. You can do one more and one more and then you can make five more reps when you didn't expect it."

Other times, being part of a team is a good experience for reasons that aren't related to sports.

"I was always blaming our government, how bad they are," said Veronika Blaskova, a freshman from Slovakia. "When I can see other governments, then I think I'm pretty satisfied with ours. A lot of things change me here — when I see the different opinions and different cultures and how they live in different countries, this opened my eyes."

It's been a big season for changes for Wichita State's women's tennis team. Coach Colin Foster integrated six freshmen — from five countries — into his roster and remained successful.

WSU plays No. 13 Clemson (19-10) Saturday in the NCAA Fayetteville (Ark.) Regional. Playing without a senior, the Shockers (17-9) won their third consecutive Missouri Valley Conference title.

"It's definitely been unique," Foster said. "We probably haven't done as much goal-setting as I have with teams in the past. They really wouldn't know what realistic goals would be. So it's like, 'Hey, our objective is to work hard every day and get better.'"

Foster leaned on junior Lutfiana Budiharto, his returning No. 1 singles player and the two-time MVC Player of the Year. Junior Delia Damaschin returned at the No. 4 singles spot.

Freshmen filled in all the other spots, including the No. 1 doubles team of Blaskova and Spainard Montse Blasco Fernandez. No. 2 singles player Raphaela Zotter, from Austria, earned MVC Freshman of the Year honors.

All six freshmen had to adjust to a new country and a new way of thinking and playing tennis. They came from places where tennis is an individual sport. At WSU, the players practice, lift weights, travel, eat and compete as a team.

"All of a sudden we have to play for each other, and not just ourselves," Blaskova said. "It's amazing that we can support each other. When I'm down, they cheer me up. When I would play alone, I think I would give up a lot of matches. When I'm with a team, I would never give up."

Some of the freshmen weren't sure how all the cultures would blend together in Kansas. Off the court, they eat each other's food. Blaskova is learning to like Thai food, as long as it's not too spicy. They team up to avoid the fried, fatty food easily available in the United States and stick to the fresh, healthy food they are used to at home. Blasco Fernandez can't wait to get home soon to eat her paella, a rice dish with seafood or meat.

"You can find places with healthy (food), it's up to you what you want to eat," Blasco Fernandez said. "But it really tends you toward eating more fried foods."

On the court, they learned to love the camaraderie.

"I love this team spirit," Brockman said. "We push each other. We support and help each other. I can talk about my problems with my teammates."