The Temple women’s tennis team could be coined “Team World,” as the Owls have seven players competing from four different parts of the globe. The team consists of players from Australia, Canada, Croatia, the United States and Venezuela.
Coach Tracy Tooke has the responsibility of guiding this international squad to play together as one unit. In order to succeed, Tooke said, it is important for schools to have a few international student-athletes on the team.
“Every program in the country has a player or two that are foreign, no matter how big or small the school is,” Tooke said.
With 90 percent of the team comprised of international athletes, the Owls advanced last year to the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history.
This year, as the reigning Atlantic Ten Conference champs, Croatian senior captain Danira Penic and the Owls have had to make major adjustments in their lives, on and off the court.
Before moving to Florida to attend her last two years of high school, freshman Jennifer Goeta grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. With a majority of the country focusing on soccer, Goeta started playing tennis at the age of 12.
“Not too many people played tennis in Venezuela but my best friends played, so I played,” Goeta said. “My dad did sports his whole life, so he was my fitness coach.”
Before her junior year in high school, Goeta and her mom moved just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fl. It was there that she learned to speak English while attending a tennis academy.
Sophomore Lauren Verrall of Mount Gambier, Australia, started playing tennis at an earlier age. She fondly remembered her first experience with a tennis racquet.
“When I was three, I hit a ball on a string that was tied to a pole. It was called ‘Totem Tennis,'” Verrall said. “My parents would watch me play for a long time.”
After starting to play competitively at the age of 12, Verrall had frequent training partners for her conditioning.
“When I would go running, I saw kangaroos and koalas all the time,” she said. “Just last week, my mom told me that a koala tried to climb in my bedroom window [when I was younger].”
With her brother Jon on the men’s tennis team, freshman Jackie Sy from Toronto, Canada, said she felt comfortable coming to Temple for several reasons – her brother and Temple’s medical program were two major ones.
Goeta, a tourism hospitality major, had the choice to attend schools in Texas and in Florida, but instead decided on North Broad Street.
“Academics was the big reason I came here,” Goeta said. “[Other schools] didn’t have good academics.”
A friend of Tooke’s noticed Goeta in Florida, but it was a recruiting list Tooke had that helped her recruit Verrall.
“You can’t play tennis and go to school at the same time in Australia,” Verrall said, who is a kinesiology major. “[Tooke] contacted me, as I was on a list. I wanted to be somewhere I was going to get a good degree from.”
Laura Seiverling, a Hershey, Pa., native and the lone American on the squad, said communicating is a challenge.
“Sometimes it’s difficult,” she said. “We are very diverse. They all know English, but I only know little words like ‘good job.'”
During doubles matches, communication barriers can tangle with succees. Playing alongside Croatian teammate Lara Ercegovic, Verrall said, “I’ve learned enough Croatian to get me by. I play with Lara, so I know all of the tennis terms.”
Sophomore Ana Maslesa, along with Penic and Ercegovic, frequently speak Croatian, which can pose problems.
“It’s a little tough for the other girls since we are a majority,” Penic said.
Jake Hendy can be reached at email@example.com.