North Texas Daily

Mean Green tennis home to only one American athlete

Mean Green tennis home to only one American athlete

September 29
09:14 2015

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer

@toriemosley

The popularity of tennis stretches over many different countries and continents. Its multicultural following brings foreign exchange students to almost every university campus across America.

The Mean Green tennis team is no different, with only one player from the Lone Star State, much less America, on its roster.

“I’ve been the first American for six to eight years,” junior Alexis Thoma said. “It’s cool. You learn about everyone’s culture, and you grow as a person.”

Like her teammates, the Frisco High School graduate isn’t originally from Texas. Thoma didn’t have to adjust by learning a new language or even what Whataburger is. Her journey to North Texas started in Omaha, Nebraska, and she said she came to Texas her sophomore year of high school because tennis is a lot better in the South.

Ranking ninth in Texas and 122nd nationally throughout her high school career, Thoma would quickly go on to become one of the best tennis players in Texas.

She turned down offers from Southern Mississippi, the University of Louisiana and Marshall to play for the Mean Green. The Nebraska native said getting used to Texas did not come easily.

“In the beginning, it was very tough,” she said. “But every day I would look forward to stepping on the court, and all my problems would go away.”

Most student athletes form individual rivalries throughout high school and college. For international sports like tennis, even North Texas reaches across the globe for talent to compete with in the U.S.

“Tennis is a global sport,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “We recruit the best players in Texas like Alexis, but there are so many amazing players like [freshman] Maria [Kononova] all over the world.”

The Russian-born Kononova won five Russian national titles in high school and said coming to America to play the sport she dominated her whole childhood in Russia was an adjustment.

“I didn’t like the rules here,” she said. “But I got used to everything eventually and am still getting used to being in America now.”

Selling the American college sports experience to foreign athletes is easy, Lama said. Getting the players used to an entirely new country is the hard part.

“The American lifestyle is a lot different from their country’s, so it’s continuous adjustments for them,” Lama said. “From the food they eat, to the language, to the way we do things here, its a lot, but they have adjusted well so far.”

Thoma said she understands why coaches like Lama look for talent overseas more often than staying domestic.

“Foreigners are known for a hard work ethic,” she said. “It’s very hard to find an American these days that’s willing to work hard and bring everything to the next level.”

But Lama said although he and his staff prioritize foreign athletes because of their talent and dedication, a player’s origin never determines who makes the team.

“You can find great players anywhere,” he said. “We’re looking for people that really want to be here, who really want to develop their game and who really want take it to the next level, but at the same time get a good education.”

After she graduates, Thoma hopes to go pro and record a grand slam one day or use her web design degree to design websites for companies.

North Texas has a 28-18 singles record so far this season and 9-8 in doubles. Its next action will be at the ITA Texas Regionals in College Station in October.

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