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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Tennis

Chemistry takes team to new heights


The Cougars hope to hear their name called on April 29 when the NCAA tournament field is announced. It would be UH’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1998 and only selection as an at-large team in program history.   |  Esteban Portillo/The Daily Cougar

The Cougars hope to hear their name called on April 29 when the NCAA tournament field is announced. It would be UH’s first appearance in the Big Dance since 1998 and only selection as an at-large team in program history. | Esteban Portillo/The Daily Cougar

The UH tennis team is a microcosm of the University’s trademark diversity.

The nine players on the Cougars’ roster hail from five countries, and none called the United States home before joining the team. Though many of the players have diverse cultural backgrounds, the team has bonded about European roots, similar experiences in a new environment and a drive to win in a competitive industry.

The result is a team that has created a winning culture.

Before losing in the championship round of the American Athletic Conference tournament to South Florida on Sunday, the Cougars posted their school-record fifth straight shutout victory and sixth consecutive win overall after defeating Rutgers on Saturday.

The Cougars’ ascension to a national ranking and the No. 1 seed in the American tournament may have surprised outsiders, but the players expected to win.

“We knew it from the beginning. When I signed up I knew we’d have a good team,” said freshman Despoina Vogasari. “I knew (freshman) Tina (Rupert) from juniors. I heard that (sophomore) Maria (Andrea Cardenas) was coming, so I knew we’d have a good team, because we have some very talented players. So we couldn’t help but be good this year.”

However, more than talent has put UH (21-5) two wins shy of matching the school record that was set in 1989-90. Junior Elena Kordolaimi said the team’s chemistry and accountability has helped them this season.

“Coming to a new university and meeting new teammates, and I knew them for like a day or two and I felt like part of their team. It felt like I’d been here already for a long time. That was really great — to have teammates and and good chemistry. That’s really special,” Kordolaimi said.

“When we’re going and playing other teams, it’s really important that we have that chemistry going on, because we care about each other and we play for each other on court, and it shows on the court.”

The Cougars begin to build team chemistry as soon as a player joins them. From day one, the upperclassmen help freshmen acclimate to life as a student athlete in America.

For Vogasari, the process included learning to live without her family and completing the extensive paperwork for international students. Teammates like Kordolaimi, who is experienced with the process, helped her.

“You’re coming here, and you face the same struggles. You have none of your family here, and you have to create your own circle starting out from zero,” Kordolaimi said. “You have been through the same things, so having international athletes come in, you’ve faced already what they’re facing as a student athlete. And you’re able to help them. That’s immediately a connection.”

The Cougars hope their bond and talent will serve them as the postseason begins. On April 29, the Cougars will find out whether they will make the NCAA tournament for the third time in UH history and for the first since 1998.

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