University of Rhode Island sophomore tennis player Anna Peacock was born and raised in England. Â Teammates Elizaveta Sadovnikova and Galina Chernykh are from Russia, Kathleen Uy from the Philippines and senior Nithila Asokaraj is a first-generation American.
They all have one common goal: play tennis and get a degree.
Half of the University of Rhode Island women’s tennis team emigrated from around the world, making them one of the most diverse collegiate teams in the country.
For the most part, when they immigrated, everything around them was different: Â the people, the culture, the schools and in some cases, the language. Â Despite all the differences, tennis, along with the support group the team has become, stay the same.
“We have so many different girls, different personalities and different backgrounds,” senior captain Uy said. Â “You learn to understand each other. Â You have someone else to kind of understand where you’re coming from. Â It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but it makes it more relatable.”
Peacock and juniors Sadovnikova and Chernykh shared a similar goal before they ever arrived in the States. Â The idea was to play tennis individually and hopefully get recognized with the chance to come to America where they could receive an education for it.
Competitive tennis is not offered at their schools. Â They had to sign up and travel to tournaments to play. Â There are camps and academies but even those require a desire to play. Â They had to be willing to devote themselves to the sport.
“In all of Europe, it’s a very individual sport so playing as a team is very different and you have to get used to it,” Peacock said. Â “Sports here are a lot more competitive than at home. Â If you want to play a sport at home, you have to travel on your own to play tournaments. Â It’s never as a team.”
For Peacock and Sadovnikova, it is a similar story. Â Their older sisters played, so naturally, they did too starting at the age of 4 or 5, or as Peacock put it “as soon as I could grip the racket.”
Getting noticed by American schools is not easy. Â According to Sadovnikova, there are two ways to get recruited in Russia. A player can send a video of their tennis matches and academic test results to a company, who will work with them to find a school. Â A player can also do what she did, apply to schools they like and put their video on the Internet.
Recruiting overseas for collegiate teams has significantly grown over the past 10 to 20 years in America. Â It is a way for the smaller schools to stay competitive with the big schools like the University of North Carolina, University of Florida or the University of California at Los Angeles who are guaranteed to pick up the top high school recruits in America every year.
Peacock, who originally attended McNeese State in Louisiana, had a connection to the school. Â One of her English coaches knew the McNeese State coach, who originally recruited her before she transferred to the University of Rhode Island after her freshman year.
“With recruiting, sometimes it’s hard for URI,” Uy said. Â “Nobody thinks of URI as his or her first choice. Â That’s why I think our coach has been recruiting overseas. Â It’s more because you want that high caliber player.”
Although they come from different backgrounds, different cultures and different countries, they still have much in common. Â As passionate as they are with tennis, they are with their schoolwork, too.
“Its pretty fun that you’re whole team is in hard majors because we all hang out in the library together too,” Uy said. Â “We come back from a tournament, shower and then all meet up in the library, which is pretty cool.”
Uy is double-majoring in kinesiology and biology and is also involved with the student senate, on top of being a division one collegiate athlete. Â She started playing tennis when she was 4 years old in the Philippines.
“The competition here is a lot more competitive, I guess,” Uy said. Â “The Philippines is a really small country. Â Â You kind of know people from the other end of the country because you all see each other and all play each other.”
Peacock is also majoring in kinesiology, Chernykh in business and Sadovnikova in nursing.
“We’re more stubborn I guess,” Sadovnikova said. Â “We chose hard majors because you have to go through a lot before you come here and you have to work hard.”