By Blanca Izquierdo —
Spring means warmer weather, flowers and, of course, tennis season. The Tarleton State University Tennis team is ready to start its season. In addition to the four returning players—redshirt senior Shelby Fillingame, junior Alicia Barbaroux and sophomores Sherine Salem and Neetika Sud, the team has added three European freshmen: Sofija Hrovat, Nathalie Ulander and Faustine Palatte. The Texans are hungry and their mentality corresponds to the team’s motto: “All it takes is all we’ve got.”
Fillingame is entering her fourth season as a Tarleton Texan. The redshirt senior from Houston will be the most experienced player on the court.
“Shelby had surgery on her knee last year, but she worked hard to recover. She will always work hard for the team,” Barbaroux said.
Sud had an important role in the team last year. She played in the No. 2 line up for the Texans and earned Lone Star Conference(LSC) honors.
“Neetika is a very steady player. She’s very consistent and she manages to win many games for us,” Salem said.
Another returner, Barbaroux, is ready to take over during her junior season at Tarleton. She’s originally from Marseille, a coastal city in the southern France.
“I miss the sea, even during the winter. I like to go there because it’s so relaxing,” Barbaroux said.
She started to play tennis in Marseille at age 6, and today she continues growing as a player.
“My personal goal is to keep improving,” she said. As a sophomore, she earned conference honors and was named LSC Player of the Year.
Salem is looking forward to starting her second season at Tarleton. She believes this new team has many talents, even though the majority of the players are freshmen and sophomores.
“We are a young team, which is great because it allows us to grow,” she said.
Salem is from Rotterdam, a city close to Amsterdam in The Netherlands, and comes from Egyptian descent.
“My dad was born in Egypt, but he moved to The Netherlands to open his own restaurant,” she said.
The sophomore tennis player recognized that moving to Stephenville was a big change coming from a such a big city.
“Rotterdam is such a big city and there is always something to do,” Salem said.
The team’s goal for next season is winning the conference, and to do so, it’s fundamental to be mentally tough.
“Tennis is an individual sport, so the most important is the mental part. It’s a long process but I try to be better every day,” Salem added.
Tarleton Tennis has recruited three more Europeans to complete the roster for the 2019 season. Palette is a freshman from Lyon, France. She sees her college career as an opportunity to grow out of her comfort zone and live many experiences.
“This is a life-changing opportunity,” Palette said. She said she chose Tarleton because the coaches were very helpful from the beginning.
“I am so happy to be part of this team. Everybody motivates and pushes each other to be better,” Palette added.
Ulander comes from Stockholm, Sweden. Her favorite part of playing tennis in the United States is “the feeling of belonging to a team” even in an individual sport.
“I made my decision to come here because of the great teammates and coaches,” Ulander said.
Hrovat, the last player who arrived on the team, comes from Bavaria, a state in southeastern Germany. She started playing when she was 6 years old and ever since, tennis has been a huge part of her life. The German player is thankful for the opportunity to continue her career at Tarleton.
“I wanted to study in the U.S. because in Germany we don´t have the opportunity to combine (sports and studies),” Hrovat said.
Hrovat said what she appreciates the most about Texas are the southern manners.
“People are so friendly, helpful and nice,” she said.
The European players experienced a big cultural change when coming to the Cross Timbers area. Some of these cultural shocks included food, cowboy boots and how kind Texans are to strangers.
“I didn’t know people actually do wear cowboy boots. I’ve never seen that in France,” Barbaroux said.
Ulander had always assumed that cowboys in Texas were like the Vikings in Sweden—a past culture.
“I thought people buy their (cowboy) attire as a souvenir,” she said.
Her teammate Salem was shocked by the cowboy culture as well, saying she “didn’t think cowboys were still a thing.”
The sophomore Hollander was impressed by the Texas’ informal “dress code”.
“It doesn’t really matter what you wear even when you go to class. People go everywhere in their sweatpants and I love it. Back home, I have to dress up every time I go out,” Salem said.
According to Hrovat, one thing Texas is missing out on is the variety of beers they have at her hometown, Bavaria.
“We have probably like 500 different beer kinds,” she said.
All five Europeans declared their love for American food.
“Dairy Queen is my favorite. I wish we could have it back home,” Ulander said.
Their favorite kind of food is Tex-Mex. “We love to go to Fuzzy’s during our days off,” Barbaroux said.
They all agree that their favorite thing to do at Tarleton is watching the volleyball games.
According to Salem, changes aren’t just cultural, and tennis is very different in Europe.
“American players are steadier, and they keep the ball in play,” she said, while Europeans stake more risks during a match and will try to hit “winners.”
According to Palette, in individual sports, the athlete’s mindset plays a fundamental role.
“Tennis is very mental. You are alone, and you are responsible for your mistakes,” she explained.
Tarleton’s tennis team has done several mental conditioning sessions and they are reading the book Everything Your Coach Never Told You Because You’re a Girl (and other truths about winning) by ex-soccer coach Dan Blank.
“I like the mental training because it helps you to be ready for the pressure of the games,” Salem said.