Sports Tennis

Tennis team represents diversity, camaraderie on campus

Junior Phonexay Chitdara is one of the team’s foreign players. She hails from Belgium and is one of many players on the team from a different country. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

It is common knowledge by now that the on-campus diversity is the University of Houston’s calling card, and the University’s sports teams are also home to wide-reaching representation. Through all the sports on campus, however, the UH tennis team might be one of the most diverse. 

Six countries are represented between the team’s seven players and head coach. They speak many languages, and one player, freshman Sophie Gerits, is fluent in five.

Despite so many cultural and language barriers, the team is still having a great season and is hoping to take a four-match win streak into the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Head coach Helena Besovic, a native of Bosnia, has taken the lead role in making sure the team meshes.

Besovic has a team policy that when the team is together, the players speak English. For some of the international players, this policy was a difficult change. But through a patient demeanor and openness to understand their cultural differences, even the players who most recently started speaking English feel comfortable communicating.

“With the international players, at the beginning it’s not easy because sometimes they’re self-conscious about speaking English,” Besovic said. “Some of them, it takes some time to adjust. Once they feel comfortable, they can be themselves. I think the key is to make everyone feel comfortable.”

So far, the team is feeling relatively comfortable. They have a 14-5 record, which is the third-best record in the conference.

The level of friendship and camaraderie has also grown among the players. Junior Phonexay Chitdara, a native of Belgium, has played under the coaching of Besovic in the past, but she understands and appreciates the unique situation she finds herself in while playing in Houston.

“It’s amazing,” Chitdara said. “We’re learning from each other. Seeing an American like Ndindi or Mimi cheering in our language, that helps a lot.”

The adjustment process for these players is an important one for not only the success of the players but also for their own personal growth. Each player had to struggle to understand each other at the most basic level.

“It’s a great experience because you get to experience all the different cultures,” said American-born junior Mimi Kendall-Woseley. “In the real world, that’s how it is. It’s not just one.”

Though each player comes from their own culture, the culture created for the team stands separate as a new identity the players can take. After working so hard to reach the same page in terms of communication, the team was able to have a stronger sense of unity and friendship.

Most teams in the country do not have to handle such a wide variety of cultural differences, but the Cougars have taken on the challenge and succeeded despite the early difficulties. Though winning and succeeding is still the main goal of the team, every member understands the importance of this experience and the value it adds.

“For me as a coach, at the end of the day, yeah we want to do well, results are very important, but I learn so much from them, too,” Besovic said. “If I wasn’t in this situation, I don’t think I would be able to experience that.”

The Cougars find themselves in a beneficial situation. They have a coach that respects and accepts their diversity and a team that reflects the values of the University. No matter where each player came from, they represent Houston when they step onto the court.

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