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Monday, October 23, 2017

Sports

Estonian freshman earns Cougars win over UConn


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Estonia native Silvia Pertens traveled far to play with the Cougars. Now that she is with the team she is just trying to blend in. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar.

Freshman outside hitter Silvia Pertens received her official welcome to Houston when she drilled a game-winning spike that secured the team’s first conference victory of the season against the UConn Huskies on Friday night.

While the hitter has an uncanny ability to blend in with her peers on the court, her story and background have little in common with her teammates. The Estonia native has been on a nine-year journey that has seen her travel over 5,000 miles to play collegiate volleyball for the University of Houston. 

Home sweet home

Tallin is the capital of Estonia — a quaint nation nestled in the corner of the Baltic Sea. This is where Pertens called home for her entire life. It was here, a little over nine years ago, that her mother decided to encourage her 6-foot daughter to attend volleyball practice, and from there Pertens never looked back. 

“I just really fell into it,” she said. “I started playing club, and I got to the national team. So I did well, and I really liked what I was doing.”

Pertens had a three-year run with Estonia’s national team. During this time, she helped the team secure numerous meaningful victories, all while honing in her skills as an outside hitter. 

Pertens isn’t the only Houston athlete to hail from Estonia. In fact, it was during her tenure with the national team that she played alongside former Cougar Kadi Kullerkan, who also played for Houston head coach Kaddie Platt. 

Land of opportunity

While her ties to Houston are clear, Pertens simply wanted the opportunity to play overseas.

“I’ve always wanted to come to the states, so my dream came true,” Pertens said. 

Her road to Houston required myriad recruiting sessions, including the necessary paperwork to appease the NCAA.

“It was hard, and it was really long,” Pertens said. “(A lot of) paperwork and things that needed to be done. But things went well, and I’m here, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Just like most incoming freshmen need time to get acquainted with the speed of the game, the same can be said for Pertens. 

“Everything is different,” Pertens said. “They have different defense systems, and the play is much faster. The quickness of the game is the main difference.”

Lifestyle change

Unlike most freshmen, Pertens has to deal with learning a new style of play as well as acclimating herself to a vastly different culture and environment. 

Tallin is home to a little over 410,000 people and is frequently pelted with freezing air and snowfall. The cobblestone streets are lined with architecture that date back to the 12th century, and the coastal city is not far from the 2,000-plus islands that compose the rest of Estonia.

Compare that to the bustling Bayou City, home to more than 2 million people. Houston teems with high-rises and vibrancy, and temperatures can reach more than 100 degrees.

While her time in Houston has been short, the Estonian said she is fitting in nicely despite the massive change in scenery. 

“I’ve been mostly on campus, but as much as I’ve been out, I really love it,” Pertens said. “I like the big skyline.”

As her journey continues to develop, the team will hope for more crunch-time performances from the outside hitter, like the one on Friday night that sealed the victory for the Cougars.

“We were super excited,” Pertens said. “This was our first conference game at home, so we’re excited to go out and beat them.”

Assistant sports editor Peter Scamardo contributed reporting.

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