Samford tennis program has international feel

Image courtesy of Reed Richardson (Art Director)

Image courtesy of Reed Richardson (Art Director)

Corey Mulligan @CorryMulligan Sports Writer |

Much of the early success of the 2013 men’s and women’s tennis programs could be attributed to the handful of international players on both rosters.

In fact, four of the seven men’s players and three of the nine women’s players are from foreign countries.

For the men, senior Alex Sajonz from Sweden, junior Elliot Barnwell and freshman Henry Moore from the United Kingdom and freshman Fares Kilani from Tunisia are among the members of the squad.

On the women’s side, sophomores Stephanie N’tcha and Adri Lochner come from Benin and South Africa, respectively, and freshman Carita Moolman hails from Namibia.

Men’s coach Rahim Esmail and women’s coach David Vest have used friends, coaches and former teammates to contact and recruit players who live in various parts of the world.

“I don’t recruit a kid unless I know somebody firsthand who either works with them or has worked very closely with them,” Vest said. “There is a very refined process in terms of getting international kids here.”

According to the coaches, there is a domino effect that occurs once one international player commits to Samford.

“The way we get our name out there is from the players we have right now continuing to promote what we’re doing,” Esmail said.

“For instance, if one of them has a friend who is quite good, they reach out to them and talk to them about what we do here at Samford.”

As expected, there are some obstacles for international players to overcome when making the transition to America.

“Not only are they 6,000 miles away from home, but they don’t have the opportunity to go home until a semester is finished,” Vest said.

“That is obviously a big thing, and also the fact that they’re coming from one group of friends and one culture to a different group of friends and a different culture.”

One thing that helps international players tremendously is the family-like atmosphere within the Samford athletic department.

“At the beginning it was weird and hard for me to be in a place where I speak a different language with different people,” Kilani said. “I got used to this situation with the help of everybody and I like it here,”

For N’tcha, Samford’s assistance with paper work and other technicalities, as well as its strong academic reputation, made the difference.

“They showed great interest in me, and the academics were exactly what I was looking for,” N’tcha said.

Leaving their families behind and entering into a completely different culture is a colossal challenge for these international players, but it is a challenge they love to face.

Part of the reason so many players choose to take the leap from their home country to America is that they want to experience learning from a different group of people both on and off the court.

At Samford, these players also have the assurance that they will not be left to overcome their challenges alone.

“Once they arrive on campus, this is their family while they’re here for the next four years,” Esmail said.

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