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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

A local court, but a foreign game

Mississippi State’s men’s tennis team may have won the SEC West this season, but like many of their counterparts in the SEC, their talent is not a local product.

 The Bulldogs have three players on their roster listed as being from the United States, and one of those three is originally from Russia. Eight international players, stretching from Darwin, Australia to Ontario, Canada fill out the rest of the roster for MSU.

 The women’s roster has a similar ratio, with five of the eight players listed on the roster coming from outside the U.S.

 For men’s coach Per Nilsson, the mix of international and American players is something that is beneficial to both groups.

 “You have Americans who get to see and compete against some international kids, and in the summer, they can travel with them and play tournaments together,” Nilsson said. “You’ve got the international kids who come over here and get a great experience seeing what U.S. college life is like.”

 The 11 international tennis players is more than double the amount of foreign athletes on the rosters of MSU’s other official sports combined. Nilsson said he recruits overseas because there is less tennis talent in the state of Mississippi, where tennis has to compete with popular sports such as basketball and football. So while Dan Mullen is building his football team around finding the best players in Mississippi, Nilsson is trying to get on a plane to Europe twice a year to build his tennis program.

 Freshman Zach White, an Ontario native, said he chose to play collegiate tennis in the U.S. because Canadian universities do not offer scholarships for sports. How he ended up at a state college in Mississippi is a product of the recruiting efforts of the coaches.

 “If it wasn’t for the coaches, I wouldn’t really know about Mississippi State or their program or anything,” White said. “It was all the coaches that found me and hunted me down.”

 Nilsson himself is a Sweden native, but he originally came to the U.S. as a foreign exchange student at Jackson Academy, located in the suburbs of Mississippi’s capital city.

 His high school economics teacher suggested he look into playing college tennis, so Nilsson met with the coaches and was offered a scholarship. Fourteen years after graduating from MSU, Nilsson was named as the team’s head coach in 2008.

 Although many of the players have been able to make the adjustment to playing tennis and going to school in a foreign land, as evidenced by the team’s 3.85 GPA last fall. Junior George Coupland said he thinks the first couple months are the toughest to get through.

 “The first month and a half or so was probably the worst part of my college so far,” Coupland, a Hatfield, England native, said. “Looking at the guys coming in after me, it’s the same way with them.”

 For Coupland and fellow junior Louis Cant, when they began school in the fall of 2008, it was their first time to set foot on the MSU campus. That story is common among international athletes, which makes starting college in another country even more of an unknown.

 Nilsson said he has former players help him with recruiting overseas and, like most college recruiters, he tries to establish relationships with the coaches who have the best players on their teams.

 Unlike revenue-producing sports like football and basketball where the national perception is that academics in recruiting can be little more than figuring out what needs to be done to get a player eligible, Nilsson prefers players that are motivated academically as well.

 “If someone comes in and just wants to play tennis and doesn’t want to take care of school it won’t be a good fit,” Nilsson said. “The guys we have on the team, they’re putting in a lot of effort on both sides. They take pride in it, and I stay on them, I make them work on the road and whenever we have some extra time.”

 The mix of seven countries being represented within one team that spends both the fall and spring semesters competing in tournaments and matches and traveling together can be an interesting one. For Coupland, he said he comes away with an interesting take on the homelands of his teammates.

 “You feel as though you already know a lot about the country even though you haven’t been there yourself,” Coupland said

 As other schools catch up with State in their overseas recruiting effort thanks to easier access to players now through the Internet, Nilsson hopes a base of American tennis players will form among U.S. youth.

 He said he thinks one of the things American tennis needs is a superstar to look up to on the pro tour like there has been in the past with stars such as John McEnroe, Andre Aggasi and Pete Sampras.
“Tennis is kind of in a period of waiting for someone new to come up for kids to really be excited about,” Nilsson said. “I know the (United States Tennis Association) is working really hard on trying to get the younger kids developed.”

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
A local court, but a foreign game