Foreign athletes find home at Southeastern

­­­The internationally recruited Lady Lions tennis (14-1, 4-0 SLC) team is heating up the court. They remain undefeated in conference play and had a 12 match winning streak until nationally ranked Virginia Tech broke it at 6-1. They came back strong however and beat McNeese State 5-2 Saturday and Lamar 6-1 on Sunday. The eight women on the team all travel far from home to receive a higher education, while pursuing a sport they truly love. Head tennis coach Jason Hayes is amazed by what his players do, which garners an immense amount of respect.
“You have to admire that as an 18-year-old female they are willing to leave their family to come over for this opportunity,” Hayes said. “Tennis is actually the third most played sport in the world, and the United States is the only place offering college scholarships for tennis.”
Senior Isabel Brito is from Bdajoz, Spain. Back home, tennis was her life. She loved the sport, even though it can be tough. Coming to Southeastern gave her the chance to be part of a team.
“Tennis has always been my life,” said Brito. “It is different in Europe, because we didn’t get the help we needed from teachers. You needed to find your own schedule, and if you needed to miss for tournaments, it was your own problem. We didn’t have teams either. Tennis can be a very lonely sport.”
According to Hayes, when he looks for recruits he looks to see how well they work with a team among having strong academics. This plays a huge role as to who is chosen to play.
“Tennis is an individual sport, but in college, it’s a team sport,” Hayes said. “So they have to be outgoing. They have to be friendly. To understand what they’re doing, the choices and sacrifices they’re making, most of them come over here with a very positive attitude because of this opportunity.”
Brito continued to express how playing on a tennis team and having her coach, teammates and fans all cheer the team on gives her that Lion Pride before each match.
“Being on a team is the most rewarding part,” said Brito. “And to me, wearing SLU gives me pride.”
Playing tennis in America is not as popular as it is overseas, which is why Hayes believes American players never choose Southeastern for tennis.
“I love Southeastern. It’s the best place I’ve ever been to and coached at, but to a top level tennis player in Louisiana, it’s a second choice,” said Hayes. “The Louisiana kids, if they don’t go to LSU to play, they may try to go as far away as possible. We lose people to Southern Mississippi, just because it’s ‘out of state.’ I’ve actually tried for American players in the past, but it’s almost as if their family is embarrassed to say they go to Southeastern. It’s a shame. Two nights ago, we played Virginia Tech, and we had over 250 people here. Then the night before, baseball was packed too. I thought to myself, ‘This place has it, and it’s getting better and better.'”
Something both Brito and Hayes agree on is the Lions Athletic Association staff, trainers and athletes who make the athletic programs such a meaningful experience for students. It does not matter if they are coming from out of the country, or as local as New Orleans.
“Everybody stays together as a big family,” Brito said. “I’m not talking only about the tennis team. I get that feeling from everybody: the athletic trainers, other athletes and students.”
Hayes said, “I think it has to do with the leadership of my boss and the athletic director. From the athletic trainers to coaches, you will not find a better staff than we have here.”
Whether athletes go professional or not after graduation, when they leave they are prepared for the future.
“I tell every recruit, ‘I want you to play Wimbledon,’ but I know that when they graduate, they’ve got a degree that’s going to last them the next 40 years of their life,” said Hayes. “So if you don’t go pro, you’re still prepared for life.”