Broken English is not all that uncommon for members of Northeastern State’s tennis team.
There is a general understanding of the language, and team members can churn out fluid sentences. But on scale of one to 10, Lucia Cerchlanova says she’s still somewhere in the five to seven range — in other words, it’s a work in progress.
“I don’t think I’ve mastered yet,” Cerchlanova said, laughing as she describes her English excellence. “I’m in the process of mastering it.”
Such is life for nearly 90 percent of NSU’s tennis team. Most hail from nations on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ivana Belejova, Martina Bruzikova and Cerchlanova are all from Slovakia. Also from central Europe is Barbora Jirickova, a Czech Republic native. Jeanna Mallem’s homeland is France, and Kristina Savchenkov represents one of the largest cities in the world, Moscow.
The only non-European athletes are Houda Bellamine and Kate Nesbitt. One is from northern Africa — Bellamine calls Casablanca, Morocco, home — while Nesbitt’s hometown is only roughly 300 miles away from Tahlequah, in Rolla, Mo.
The RiverHawks certainly have an international flavor. But like most Division II tennis programs, that’s not all that unusual.
The path to college tennis is vastly different for those who come from overseas. There is no high school tennis to showcase specific skills. It’s all about how you look on film.
Allow Savchenkov to explain the process.
“You record you playing tennis, and you create a resume with all the tournaments that you’ve played,” said Savchenkov, a 17-year old freshman for the RiverHawks. “Then you put it on a website and coaches come talk to you. They call you or email you.”
Same goes for Cerchlanova.
“In Slovakia, we don’t play high school sports,” Cerchlanova said. “We have clubs, and you have to practice there and pay for it on your own. So I did it. I recorded myself playing tennis and sent it to coaches. I had several choices and I chose here.”
Belejova’s path to NSU is similar — with a slight variation.
“I knew a girl from Slovakia that was playing tennis at NSU, so she kind of let the coach know stuff like, ‘oh I know this girl and she plays good,’” Belejova said. “Then I made a video of myself, and I sent it to her. Then we just had to communicate.”