After winning the Big Sky Conference championship for the ninth time last year, the Sacramento State men’s tennis team will look to defend its title – this time with seven new players.
The Hornets are made up of 11 players, four of them are returners from last year’s championship team and seven of them are either freshman, foreign or both.
With players from Poland, Sweden, Belarus, Estonia, Mexico, England, India and the United States, this year’s team has more players from overseas than any other team at Sac State.
But not every player was sure the diverse team would work.
Freshman Sean Kolar said he was not sure how things were going to turn out.
“At first I thought it would be strange,” Kolar said. “But the guys are all cool and I like them, which is something I didn’t think would happen. I thought I wouldn’t really get a long with them as much as I do, but it’s pretty cool.”
Two of the seven freshman are redshirting this year, but the other five all play in either singles, doubles or both in every match.
Freshman Marek Marksoo, a native of Estonia, has been one of the biggest stars for the Hornets this year. He was named Big Sky Conference co-Player of the Week for his play against Weber State University, Saint Mary’s College and UC Davis on Feb. 18 and 19.
Marksoo plays in both singles and doubles matches, but he has shined as the No. 5 singles player and is a team-best 5-1 and riding a four-game winning streak.
Marksoo made the move to Sacramento in the fall and he said it was something planned for a while.
“It’s a pretty big switch,” Marksoo said. “I’ve had this idea for the last couple years. I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be like, but it’s a win-win situation for me. I get to practice and play a lot of tennis and I get to study at the university as well. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Marksoo said he believes having so many other people in the same boat as him helps.
“It’s a great experience because we are all in the same situation so we are all supportive of each other,” Marksoo said.
Junior Aliaksandr Malko made the move as well.
Malko, a native of Belarus, moved to the U.S. three years ago when he joined the tennis team at South Carolina State University for the 2009-10 season.
When he arrived in America, Malko said he could hardly speak English.
“I was terrible,” Malko said. “It was hard because the coach was American and the guys were international and didn’t speak my language. I didn’t know a lot. I was only studying English two or three years so my level was so bad.”
Malko transferred to play at Sac State last year and he has now established himself as the No. 1 singles player on the team and one of the captains.
Malko said his English has improved since he has been in America, but he still speaks Russian when he is with Marksoo or Konikov. Malko even speaks some Polish when with freshman Roy Brandys, native of Poland.
The other team captain, senior and Mexico-native Javier Millan, is in his second year with the Hornets.
Millan said he has enjoyed being one of the two seniors on the team because he gets to mentor the young guys.
“They’re new so they do whatever you tell them to do,” Millan said. “It’s easier sometimes. I tell them my experiences and what to do and what not to do.”
After nine of the 13 players from last year either graduated or are no longer part of the team, the program had to completely revamp the team.
Millan said he believes this will help the freshman to be great because when they become seniors, they will be more experienced with three years together.
“They are going to have more chemistry and it’s going to be a good team,” Millan said.
Josh Stanley can be reached at [email protected]
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