Sports Tennis

‘It’s a very unique place’: How UH tennis prioritizes diversity

Senior Azul Pedemonti and junior Blanca Cortijo Parreno are two of the longest tenured Cougars on the UH tennis roster, and have fully embraced the diverse environment brought upon them by the makeup of the team. | Courtesy of UH Athletics.

Senior Azul Pedemonti and junior Blanca Cortijo Parreno are two of the longest-tenured Cougars on the UH tennis roster and have fully embraced the diverse environment brought upon them by the makeup of the team. | Courtesy of UH athletics.

The UH tennis roster currently features 10 athletes from 10 different countries, providing a unique team makeup for head coach Helena Besovic.

As a person who came to the United States from another country herself, Besovic said working with such a diverse unit is a unique experience and is something that not many coaches have the opportunity to do.

“It feels very special, and it’s a very unique place because not everyone gets to experience being around people from so many different countries and cultures,” Besovic said. “I think we’re lucky and as a coach, it’s amazing to work with student-athletes from all over the world. I learn so much from them.”

Besovic believes that it is important to give international students the opportunity, especially in women’s sports and makes it a point of emphasis when she is bringing players into the program.

“I like bringing players that bring more diversity to the team,” Besovic said. “I think it is something important, especially in female sports, giving chances to those players of different backgrounds.”

Veteran players such as senior Azul Pedemonti and junior Blanca Cortijo Parreno feel this diversity not only brings them together as a team but welcomes new players as many of them understand what it takes to leave family behind to join the program.

“It’s like another small family away from our family. With everyone being international teammates, we are all new here and we are experiencing everything together as a family,” Parreno said.

“We all support each other a lot because we experience these same things. That’s the best part; we understand what we are all going through” Pedemonti added.

A cornerstone in helping these players adapt to their new homes away from their families is none other than Besovic, as she herself was once in their shoes.

Besovic, originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, came to the U.S in 2003 to attend Ouachita Baptist College before transferring to TCU in 2004.

With a team of players in a similar situation to the one she had when she first came to the U.S, Besovic gets an opportunity to provide players with the support she said she would have wanted back then for herself.

“I understand from my own experience that they are far from home and far from their parents and families, so it’s not easy,” Besovic said. “It’s very important to give them that support and be there when they need it, as I would have liked when I was in their position. I try to be a second mother to them.”

As players find themselves searching for that support, they look right to Besovic for help every step of the way and Besovic delivers.

“She serves as our second mother,” Parreno says. “She has experienced all of these new things so she’s here helping us. When we need something, she’s the one that is here for us to ask.”

“I feel that (Besovic) knows and understands what we are going through too, and I love that,” Pedemonti added. “I love that she has the empathy to say, ‘I know what it is like.” She plays an amazing role because at the end of the day she is our first emergency contact.”

This bond between the players that are shared with Besovic brings the team together not only in their off-court daily lives.

“We help each other because we try to understand the position of everyone, and when it comes to actually being on the court, we try to keep that same mentality and mindset for everyone,” Pedemonti said.

“It is definitely something that sets us apart and makes us stronger,” Besovic added.

Besovic believes that open-mindedness is the key to the team’s success and is why they are able to mesh so easily even when the players are all from different backgrounds.

“I think the players … come with an open mind to accept different cultures and backgrounds, and I see them excited about it,” Besovic said. “They know that they will be on the team and meet players all around the world, so it’s important to bring these players who are open-minded.”

Besovic believes there is a lesson to be learned for the world behind this.

“Being able to come together and realize that even coming from different backgrounds and different countries, we still have a common goal and can work together,” Besovic added. “I think it’s a great lesson to the world and everyone in it to see that it’s possible.”

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