Rifanty Kahfiani jumped through hoops to become a starter on the Oregon women’s tennis team.
The 18-year-old freshman from Jakarta, Indonesia took the TOEFL test, an English language test, seven times before she met the target score to get accepted into and play tennis for Oregon.
When she finally got here, she played five matches and went 5-2 in doubles and singles before suffering a severe ankle sprain that confined her to a scooter and crutches for a month. With two other Ducks out with injuries as well, the team had to rely on just six players to get them through the next six weeks of competition.
During spring break, Kahfiani marked her return to the court to face Fresno State in singles.
“I’m very excited to play as best as I can,” Kahfiani said.
Although her match went unfinished – the Ducks won 4-1 before she could conclude her match – the team is just happy to have her back.
“Before, we had just six players, but to know that now there are so many more options, it’s kinda crazy,” her teammate Alyssa Tobita said.
English is still new for Kahfiani. She struggled to keep up in her math class because she had to decipher the instructor’s unfamiliar accent while learning new concepts.
“I know that Math 95 (Intermediate Algebra) is not that hard, but the language makes it harder for me,” she said. “I got frustrated the first week. But when I kept doing it, it’s fine.”
It has been just 3 months since Kahfiani landed on U.S. soil, but her teammates marvel at the progress she has made learning English.
“When we have team meetings, the coaches sometimes say words that she won’t understand,” Tobita said. “But after the meeting, she’ll come to me and ask what the word meant. It’s crazy that she can remember the words and take that all in.”
Kahfiani started learning English in elementary school but was only limited to simple things such as numbers. While playing on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) circuit, she had to travel a lot, which forced Kahfiani to hone her English skills.
“Honestly, I’m not that good at English, but I got better when I was traveling,” she said. “I have to speak English with everyone, so that made me better.”
Kahfiani’s route to Oregon seemed destined with the connections forged throughout her tennis career. She befriended Shweta Sangwan, a sophomore on the Oregon team, from playing on the ITF circuit and is practically family with the two Indonesian brothers on the men’s tennis team at Oregon, Armando and Fabian Soemarno.
Until last April, the 18-year-old didn’t even know about the University of Oregon until two Indonesian tennis players for the Ducks convinced her to apply and linked her up with the coach.
Oregon head coach Alison Silverio capitalized on these connections to convince Kahfiani to pack her bags and move to a foreign land almost 8,000 miles from home.
“We had a nice connection with the two brothers that were already playing here, so that’s how Rifanty and I started communicating,” Silverio said. “She seemed like a very positive, very respectful young lady when I first talked with her. It was a very great start to our relationship.”
While Kahfiani’s teammates help her out with English, she also teaches them about the Indonesian culture, particularly language. Tobita uses the little Indonesian she has picked up from her to establish personal rapport during matches.
“[The team] calls me Tobi, so she’ll be like, ‘ayo Tobi,’ which means ‘let’s go Tobi.’ So I’ll say ‘ayo Fa,’ which is ‘let’s go Rifa,’ ” Tobita said. “I love saying that a lot during matches. It makes me feel connected just to her than just saying, ‘let’s go Ducks’ all the time, especially when she’s watching from the back of my court.”
One of the Indonesian phrases that the team, including the coaches, has picked up is ‘ayam goreng,’ Indonesian for fried chicken. Whenever Kahfiani misses an easy ball or falls, she utters that phrase, and the team can’t get enough of it.
“She missed a couple balls in a row and she said ‘fried chicken,’ but in Indonesian,” Silverio said. “And I went, ‘Rifa! You just said fried chicken.’ And she said with a smile, ‘Yes coach. Yes, I did.’ That put a smile on her face and it made me and the other girls laugh. She’s a fun girl to be around.”
Even when Kahfiani was going through rehabilitation, she continued to contribute to the team by supporting them from the sidelines.
“[Rifa and the athletic trainer] would be on the side of the court doing their exercises and she would always feed in positive energy,” Silverio said. “That’s the kind of student-athlete you want on your team. When things aren’t great for them, everything’s not going their way, they’re still going to find a way to give back to the team.”
Kahfiani has just embarked on her college journey, but she already has options laid out in her future. She harbors dreams of pursuing a professional tennis career, becoming an athletic trainer or opening a restaurant boasting healthy food.
She’s on track to go down any of those paths. She’s on the varsity tennis team, pursuing a human physiology degree and her cauliflower pizza and pasta are some of the dishes her teammates have enjoyed.
“I typically don’t like people helping me when I’m cooking, with the exception of Rifa,” Nia Rose, a junior on the team, said. “I trust her to cook anything.”
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