Building collegiate tennis teams based on similar cultural backgrounds has been a known strategy, such as UCLA and its majority of Californians, or Drake University with eight players from the United Kingdom. However, the No. 36 Oregon men’s tennis team has one of the more globally diverse teams in the NCAA.
“We’re a mixed bag of candy,” said head coach Nils Schyllander, who is from Sweden. “We can all learn from each other and draw from each other. Once you get here and go through those locker room doors, it’s team only. We leave our egos outside.”
Oregon is 16-8 on the season. Seven players have winning records in singles play and the team won seven of its last nine matches to close out the season, securing a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Out of the nine Ducks, two are from the United States (Ty Gentry, Washington, and Ethan Young-Smith, Oregon), two are from Europe (Thomas Laurent, France, and Simon Stevens, Belgium), one is from Australia (Cormac Clissold) and four are from Asia (Akihiro Tanaka and Riki Oshima, Japan, Armando Soemarno, Indonesia, and Charles Roberts, Thailand).
“This team is highly diverse,” Tanaka said. “Most of the men come from a variety of countries, so we understand cultural differences. It’s really fun and a great opportunity to have fun with friends.”
The team is united and feed off of each other’s success. Stevens, Clissold, Young-Smith and Gentry are fiery and bring energy to the courts. When one of them wins a point, the other five courts know and want to respond with their own yell right away. Roberts and Soemarno have plenty of experience to share in doubles play and are great teammates when off the court. Laurent is humble with his immense talent and calm demeanor, which has inspired and challenged his teammates. All these traits have helped others improve and brought the team closer.
“I think that having that many cultures is very good,” said Stevens. “We all learned tennis in a different way…. I think that we can all bring these little things. If we find a good way to add it up, it’s a great mix.”
Of course, leaving your home country to compete in the United States is not easy. Every player goes through similar struggles, adapting to college life in Eugene, and transitioning from individual competition to a hybrid of team and individual tennis.
It can be especially difficult for January enrollees. Freshman Riki Oshima left high school in Japan to start college and tennis at the beginning of winter term, which forced a quick need to adapt. Oshima was nervous and started off his career 5-5.
Fortunately he has teammates that went through a similar journey. By listening to upperclassmen like Tanaka, Oshima is turning his slow start into a productive first season. He went 11-6, and clinched multiple matches for the team.
“To play for a team is different than playing individually,” Schyllander said. “Now he is starting to figure it out and really starting to find his identity. He’s constructing the points much better.”
With Tanaka, Stevens and Clissold set to graduate in June, Oshima looks forward to helping incoming teammates through the same things he experienced.
“Those guys helped me a lot,” Oshima said. “I don’t want them to graduate, I have good relationships. When I turn to sophomore, I will help freshmen.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack