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(Rick Hickman / American Press)

(Rick Hickman / American Press)

For McNeese tennis, winning a dream that transcends cultures

Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 6:38 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Lake Charles may be a bit off the beaten path, but Danielle Steinberg is hoping to put it on the women’s tennis map.

To do so, she is taking a very American approach to building McNeese State’s program by going international in search of talent.

This year all six members of the Cowgirls team are from Europe, which is nothing new in the world of women’s college tennis. If you look around, all schools have their own foreign players littering their rosters.

“It is just how college tennis is played in America,” Steinberg said. “If I want to build this program, and do it as quick as possible, I need to get some international players.”

As for the players, they are living their own version of the American dream, getting a chance to play tennis and getting a college education. This is something they can’t do back in Europe.

There they have to choose between school or sports.

“We get a chance to come here and play tennis and get an education,” said sophomore Diana Pirciu, a sophomore from Pitesti Anges, Romania. “We don’t have these opportunities in Europe. Coming here and being able to play has been great.”

Pirciu is one of two sophomores on the team who came from Romania. There are also players from England, Spain, Poland and Russia. While they admit there have been more than a few moments of culture shock in their time in Lake Charles, they can rally around the fact they are all in the same position.

“We spend a lot of time together,” Anastasia Surkova said. “We don’t have a lot of time for a social life with school and tennis, but we have gotten to know each other real well.”

Admitting they have all gone through times of home sickness, they only have to turn to their coach to find ways of dealing with such issues.

Steinberg herself was a foreign player who came to America on a tennis scholarship. She played at Arizona, graduating in 2009, so she is not that far removed from many of the same experiences.

“I think that helps, knowing what they are going through and them knowing that I have done it,” Steinberg said. “It wasn’t that long ago that I was one of them. It helps to understand it is not just all about tennis.”

In fact, the tennis comes pretty easy to the players. It is getting used to everything else that has been more of a challenge.

“First semester is the hardest,” Surkova said. “You call home two or three times a day sometimes. You get used to it and it becomes easier, especially during the season.”

Each one did admit that Lake Charles is a far cry from the America they were expecting to see. Movies and television had them all prepared for the bright lights of cities like Los Angeles and New York.

“That is what we saw growing up,” Pirciu said. “That was the America we knew. This is a lot different, smaller.”

Another culture change for the group — they were expecting a much faster pace of life.

Yet all say they are enjoying the experience, especially the tennis and the weather.

Even during a cold and rainy week, they know one thing: “It would be snowing in Europe so this isn’t cold,” Pirciu said.

They all seem ready to follow the footsteps of their coach, saying they want to stay in America if they can after their college days are over.

As for Steinberg and the program she is hoping to build, Europe is solid ground.

“There are a lot of good players there who are grateful for the opportunity we can give them” she said. “They love the fact that they can go to college, play tennis and have a new experience in a different country.

“For that they work hard on and off the court. They want to make the most of this chance.”

Steinberg hopes her program can make the most of international players.

After all, winning is the dream that transcends cultures.

McNeese Tennis Roster

• Klaudia Gawlik or Nowy Sacz, Poland

• Andreea Nenu of Stefanesti Arges, Romania

• Annabelle Peacock of Bristol, England

• Diana Pirciu of Pitesti Arges, Romania

• Lara Pujol of Palma de Mallorca, Spain

• Anastasia Surkova of Rost-on-Don, Russia

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