International talent finds home at Marist

Marist Men’s Tennis Internationally: Google Maps

When college students move away from home to start the next chapter of their lives at school, they have to adapt to an entirely new environment.

For some members of the Marist men’s tennis team, adapting to a new environment takes on a whole other meaning.

Eight players this season are from foreign countries, more than half of the team. These players are born in countries as close as Canada, and as far away as Australia. Yet they all have the same desire: to receive a top-notch education while playing the game they love.

The combination of strong academics and a successful tennis program has attracted many international students to the small liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley.

“I really focus on academics; I came to America to get a great education, as well as to play tennis,” said sophomore Trym Nagelstad, who hails from Oslo, Norway. “I felt that Marist had really good academics, in addition to having a great team. It was a great choice.”

Athletically, the men’s tennis program stands as arguably the school’s most successful sport. In 16 years, the Red Foxes have captured 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) championships, compiling a 106-6 record in conference play during that span.

Academically, many of the team’s players attend Marist with a desire to work in business after graduation, according to head coach Tim Smith. Marist has a strong international business program, and in 2002, was accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSG)-International, placing the school in the top 25 percent of business programs nationwide.

A successful tennis team and strong education programs have made the recruiting pitch much easier for Smith.

“We have a great international business program here, and our team has been to more NCAA tournaments than any other team in the school,” Smith said. “That combination is very attractive to players.”

Smith has been the tennis coach at Marist since 1997. Three years into his tenure, he recruited the first two international players in the program’s history, one from Australia and the other from Switzerland. Those two recruits “got the ball rolling,” and soon Smith received phone calls and emails from international coaches with players looking to play in the United States.

Marist has found many international players from junior colleges around the country. Smith admits that he has never gone abroad to recruit, instead relying on what he hears from friends and fellow coaches.

Another way that Smith has kept Marist as a tennis melting pot is through the help of former players. For example, Loic Sessagesimi (Switzerland), a member of the Red Foxes from 2006-2010 and three-time MAAC Tournament MVP, helped to recruit fellow countryman Lorenzo Rossi, now a senior at Marist and a two-time MAAC Player of the Year.

For Smith, the recruiting process has always been the same: find the player who will help the Red Foxes the most.

“My goal has always been to get the best player I can,” Smith said. “They can either be international or American. If he can contribute to our team that is the player we want.”

One such player is sophomore Fredrick Bjerke, also a native of Norway. As a freshman last season, Bjerke won ten consecutive singles matches, finishing 11-4 overall and earning the MAAC Rookie of the Year Award.

Bjerke says that in addition to the academics and strong program, the camaraderie of the team makes Marist the special place that it is for many international students.

“This is a really tight team, and we are all really good players love competition,” Bjerke said. “When you are an international student, you are always trying to make connections [with others] and to have a lot of other guys in the same position; the transition [to college] becomes easier.”

The professional aspirations and desire for competition has made Marist a new home for these international students, a home that, despite being thousands of miles away from their families, has made adapting to a new environment a whole lot easier.

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