Influx of international players fueling NAU tennis success

Maybe it’s time for the Northern Arizona University tennis programs to add a new position to the men’s and women’s coaching staffs:  Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And bringing on board a translator might not be a bad idea, either.

With the recent addition of Sofia Markova, a transfer from Germany, three-quarters of the women’s tennis team roster is made up of international players.  The men’s team also has a heavy international flavor, with 60 percent joining the NAU program from out of the country.

Markova is the second player to be added from Germany, joining Gina Dittmann, a freshman from Essen who ranked No. 7 in her age group at the time she signed with the Lumberjacks.  The sophomore Markova played her first season of college tennis in Germany, where she ranked as high as 78th in the country and made two appearances in the European Summer Cup for Team Germany.

The men’s and women’s teams combined are now home to players from five countries outside of the U.S.  England is represented by five players, three on the men’s squad, while Germany, Norway, and Poland each sent two players, distributed between teams.  Hungary completes the list with one men’s player.

There are only five players in the program from within our borders, and four of them are from Arizona.  The women’s team includes a couple of Scottsdale recruits, Madi Moore, a senior from Desert Mountain High School, and Ava Neyestani, an incoming freshman from Chaparral High.

The 2020 recruiting class consisted of Neyestani, Markova, Dittman, and Aleksandra Buczynska (above photo), a transfer from Radom, Poland.

On the boys’ side, Daniel Dillon is a junior from Chaparral and Chris Steele is a senior from Tempe’s Corona del Sol HS.  The fifth from the U.S. is a junior from Palos Verdes, Calif., Mikael Purne.

The relatively-new coaching staff is a perfect fit for a program that relies heavily on international recruiting.  Maciej Bogusz, the men’s head coach, is a native of Wroclaw, Poland, and the women’s coach, Eva Bogusz, comes from Torun, Poland.

Since both went through the experience of leaving their home countries to seek out a college education and playing career in America, they relate well to those they are recruiting.

“We can say that we’ve been in their shoes and we know the process, from A to Z,” says Ewan.  “When you’re here, you’re not alone because you have your team and your team is your family now.  But still, you’re homesick, or maybe you have a language barrier.

“I think we’re able to address those things pretty well.”

Both coaches are keenly aware of that responsibility to care for these students who arrive in this country, unsure of the new path in life they’ve set for themselves.  They even drive from Flagstaff to the airport In Phoenix to greet their new charges, rather than expecting them to find a ride for the 2 1/2 hour trip to the campus.

Maciej spent his first year in Flag coaching the women’s team for the 2017-18 season, leading a Lumberjacks team that consisted of four freshmen and a sophomore to an undefeated record in the Big Sky Conference.  He switched to the men’s program the next year when Ewa was hired to take over the women’s program.  She led the women’s team to both the Big Sky regular-season and tournament championships to earn an automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Both coaches credit their own international experience as a key to their success with such a culturally-diverse roster.  Neither had been to the U.S. before beginning their college careers, Maciej at Lamar University in Texas and Ewa at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

“I think we can relate differently with international athletes,” Ewa explains.  “They can relate to our stories and they can trust that we know what they’re going through.  We had the same hurdles to jump over.”

(Photo: NAU Athletics)