Seton Hall University is well known for its international footprint with more than 70 nations represented on campus. This is evident on the women’s tennis team, as the eight girls on the roster come from five different countries. With this initial barrier of language and background it would be easy to understand if the team struggled to cultivate chemistry, but for this year’s team, no such struggle exists.
“Coming from different countries was never really an issue for the team,” sophomore Michal Matson said. “Even though our stories are a little different, we can all relate to each other as international student-athletes.”
It was not an immediate transition for Matson, who is from New Zealand, and had to not only learn how to play a team game in an individual sport, but also adapt to life on the other side of the world.
“It was definitely an adjustment the first month when we were getting to know each other,” Matson said. “You had to get a read for what each person was like and how they acted, but after that we all really clicked as a unit. Coming from all over the world, many of us had different strengths, weaknesses and preferences, so it was important that we were able to work as a team to figure out the best pairings as well as how to make each other better.”
The coming together was pertinent, as last year’s team made great strides forward on the court. Four Pirates compiled double-digit win totals in 2016-17, with highlights peppered throughout the schedule in the West Point Open, Navy Invitational, NJIT Invitational and ITA Championship.
Seton Hall had impressive victories versus Binghamton, Fairfield and Villanova, 5-0, 7-0 and 7-0 respectively. The Pirates also defeated Georgetown at the Big East Championships, making a statement at the end of the year.While all of these milestones are great to reflect on, senior Luize Strike and the rest of her team have sights set on this season. In the matter of one year, the team has gone from one without seniors to one without freshman, making a complete shift from fairly inexperienced to one with increased chemistry. With that, expectations have risen.
“The expectation this year is the Big East championship,” Strike said. “Last year, we said we’d like to win it, this year, the expectation is we will win it.”
Strike, a senior from Riga, Latvia, believes she has already seen reason to believe that the Pirates are ready for the task ahead.
“During practice this year, we have already seen improvements made by everyone over the summer,” Riga said.
This, along with the chemistry built all throughout last year is why Seton Hall has the bar set so high for this year.
The journey toward those goals began on Sept. 22 at Army West Point, with Anicka Fajnorova, Katie Kim and Melody Taal taking home first place finishes in their individual brackets. The Pirates will take those positives into four more tournaments in the fall, including trips to Harvard and Navy, before resuming play in January.
While one may think a team with such international barriers provides resistance to success, the opposite is true. Using its experience, talent and chemistry, the Pirates will look to finish what they started last year.
James Sherry can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JSherry2324.