Hornet tennis co-captain Marek Marksoo leads his team in his second year in the U.S.

Gabe Pacheco

Despite living 5,401 miles away from home, sophomore Marek Marksoo has had no problems achieving success. 

In his second year, the Tallinn, Estonia native has already won Big Sky Tennis Player of the Week five times in his young career. In an outing earlier this month earning him Player of the Week honors again this season, Marksoo defeated Cal’s 56th-ranked and No. 1 teams’ player Ben McLachlan. 

Also, Marksoo led the Hornets to a 7-0 set-sweep over previously unbeaten conference opponent Montana State this past week.

Solo senior Aliaksandr Malko, who Marksoo shares captain honors with, said Marksoo’s skill level has helped him improve his game a lot. 

“When I play him, we are pretty much at the same level,” Malko said. “I usually try and work on my weaknesses. I know his game well, so I am able to try and do different stuff with him that will help me in my future matches.”

But despite all of the success so far in his career, Marksoo’s journey has paid off with overwhelming results and sacrifice. 

Growing up in a small town, Marksoo said he did not receive many opportunities when it came to playing sports. At the tender age of six years old, his love for the game of tennis was found during a trip he took with his parents to pick up his older sister. 

“It was kind of accidental actually,” Marksoo said. “My older sister is five years older than me and she played (tennis). My parents and I went to go pick her up from practice one day and before you knew it, her coach started to throw me some balls. He saw that I had relatively good coordination and told me to come with my sister next time. And that’s how it happened.”

Marksoo said he quickly grew competitive in the sport and was traveling all over Europe by himself competing in numerous tournaments at the age of 10. 

“My life has been mostly about tennis than school,” Marksoo said. “I have tried to rearranging my school schedule around my practice time. I needed to practice twice a day. A lot of other sports don’t require that much, but with tennis you needed to practice four or five hours a day.”

Marksoo said he was fortunate the school he went to allowed him to make up all the assignments he missed while absent. 

“I was lucky that they were really understanding about how serious I was with tennis,” Marksoo said. “It helped me focus a lot more on the sport. They even gave me extra time with assignments if I needed it.” 

School isn’t the only thing Marksoo was missing out on. With the tough traveling demands his sport had, he had to move away from his family and live with his grandparents at the age of 12 in order to compete. 

“It was tough not having them around,” Marksoo said. “But I was used to being away for a month or two all on my own competing in tournaments across the country. It helped me grow and figure out a lot on my own. I think it was much harder for them to handle because I had tennis I could focus on and they had their focus on me. Today it still remains difficult to keep in touch all the time because it is a 10-hour time difference – they are asleep when I am awake.”

But the added benefit Marksoo received being away from home and competing in a vast amount of countries in Europe was his ability to speak English – which he said never presented any problem. 

“I had so much practice at different tournaments when I was 12 years old,” Marksoo said. “Plus, in high school, we studied a lot of English, but also began learning it in the first grade. I live now with an English guy (from America) and all the essays we have to write, he says mine are always better.” 

Marksoo credits the solo sport of tennis to have helped him over the years get through a lot – the concept of it being an individual sport has made his passion for tennis grow. 

“The things I love about tennis is the physical and mental game,” Marksoo said. “People may not realize how big of a part the mental role plays, and also actually the physical part because the preparation is intense and rigorous.”

Assistant head coach Kevin Kurtz said Marksoo has had to persevere through a lot to get at the level he has reached so far in his tennis career.

“He suffered a heat stroke in the fall during the first week of practice doing a fitness test,” Kurtz said. “Last year he dislocated his shoulder, been sick a few times with bad cases of allergies. But he is a tough guy and (a) really good role model for other players on the team. He listens and if you tell him to work on something, he does it without being told again. Also, he is able to really communicate efficiently with the whole team, which helps a lot.”

Before coming to Sacramento State, Marksoo’s hunt to land at a Div. I tennis program faced a lot of uncertainty due to the amount of injuries his body accumulated over the years. 

“I had a lot of winning results at the ages of 15 and 16,” Marksoo said. “But at the ages of 17 and 18, I faced a lot of injuries with both my shoulders (and) knees and I pulled my groin, which kept me from being able to compete and show results. The competitive schools usually pick the top-10 or 15 junior players, even though I believe I could be at the same level as those players, I did not have the results to show.” 

After writing to more than 50 universities, Marksoo said the main factor that led him to Sac State was because of the professionalism he received from the head coaches, particularly from Kurtz.

“He was always upfront with from the beginning,” Marksoo said. “He would always tell me ‘this is the offer and if you said yes, then you’re here.’ Some of the other coaches aren’t as straightforward as he was, so I looked more into the school here and saw the previous players who went here and the type of success the team has had. I was impressed.”  

Kurtz said Marksoo’s traveling record served as a key component to his recruitment process – alongside with the positive feedback from former coaches and players Marksoo played for and with.

Kurtz said there are also websites any coach can gain access to and look up players results. 

“With Marek, we asked about his strengths and weakness when we talked to his former pro players he practiced with,” Kurtz said. “We also asked if he is a hard worker. When we talk to him on the cell phone that is a good indication to see how well his English skills are because over here we study in English and that is first most. We want to make sure he can excel in his studies, which he is.”

Marksoo’s flight to his new destination and home in Sacramento was his first trip to America. 

Marksoo also said his choice to come to Sac State was because of the weather and environment it had to offer. 

“In the end, me deciding to come here has led me with no regrets,” Marksoo said. “I have enjoyed everything I have been able to experience so far.”


Gabe can be reached on Twitter at @sh_sports