Diverse tennis team unified by love of game
Despite vastly different backgrounds, Rebels unite to form talented squad
The majority of the tennis talent in the collegiate ranks of the U.S. is absorbed by powerhouse programs like the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California. Smaller programs like UNLV, must either settle for second-tier talent and hope for the occasional diamond in the rough, or look abroad.
The UNLV men’s tennis team has tapped into the international tennis market and it has led to one of the best seasons in the team’s history, and one of the most culturally diverse teams in the nation.
The players’ hometowns scatter the globe, ranging from Budapest and Sweden to South Africa and Israel. The team has only nine players, but a total of five nationalities and over seven languages.
“My father is Mexican so ever since I was little he was speaking to me in Spanish, so I know Spanish quite well,” said Charlie Alvarado, who hails from California. “When I was 10 I actually moved to Spain, so I got used to the Spanish language from Spain as well.”
Alvarado spent time in Spain soaking in the culture, and competing in tennis tournaments.
“What’s interesting about Spain is all the courts are clay, so I got used to different conditions. It helped with my hard court game as well,” Alvarado said.
“It’s great, you know you get used to it, and you kind of pick up the habits and cultures that they have,” Alvarado said.
The transition back to American culture wasn’t difficult for Alvarado, but it was a different story for Johannes Markel who came to UNLV from Malmo, Sweden.
“I could understand a lot [of English] but I wasn’t comfortable speaking,” Markel said. “But after a while I was going to classes and everything and that made me feel more comfortable speaking English.”
Markel not only speaks his native Swedish, but German as well due to his mother’s German heritage.
Senior Bernard Schoeman speaks excellent English since moving here from Pretoria, South Africa, but he wasn’t always so comfortable with the language.
“I spoke Afrikaans — that’s my first language,” Schoeman said. “There are 11 languages in South Africa. I spoke a little bit [of English] and since I came here it’s become my only language so it has gotten a lot easier.”
Schoeman has enjoyed a luxury while transitioning that the others from overseas have not, as the men’s head coach Owen Hambrook is also from South Africa.
“It helped a lot, even though I didn’t know him at all from back home,” Schoeman said. “It feels good to know that he’s from South Africa and we can talk about stuff from South Africa, and it gives a nice environment on the team.”
The differences in culture could be seen as a hindrance to the team’s chemistry, but Alvarado explained that it has had the exact opposite effect.
“It’s a good experience because whenever you want to go visit them possibly in a different country, or in their country, you kind of know the cultures and know the system already so it’s cool,” Alvarado said.