The Razorback women’s tennis team will have 11 players on its roster in the upcoming season, six of whom are foreign-born – this makes the team one of the most diverse in the Southeastern Conference.
Texas A&M is the only school that has more international players, with seven of their nine total tennis players being born outside the U.S.
With so many different cultures represented on the team, players could have a hard time relating with each other, but junior Ana Oparenovic said the Hogs have something they can all relate to.
“It’s true our team is very diverse, but one thing we have in common is tennis,” Oparenovic said. “We might speak different languages off the court, but on the court we all speak the same the language, in a sense. (That language) consists of hard work, support, motivation, faith and trust.”
Last spring, the Slovenian-born Oparenovic went 15-14 in singles competition, including four wins against ranked opponents, and went 15-15 in doubles competition. She was ranked No. 64 nationally and represented the Razorbacks at the 2017 NCAA Women’s Singles Championship in Athens, Georgia, last May.
With a team as diverse as the Hogs, Oparenovic says every player is bound to learn new things.
“We learn how to be patient, (and how to) accept and motivate each other,” Oparenovic said. “We learn something new about each other every day.”
It might be a struggle at first but as the season goes on, they get more and more comfortable playing with one another, the players said.
“It is a little hard to open up to everyone at first and try to understand teammates,” sophomore Natsuho Arakawa said. “But as we work together in the fall, we are ready to cheer and stand up for one another in the season.”
Arakawa, who is from Tokyo, was a standout player last spring after she ended the season with a 22-10 record in singles competition, at one point winning nine straight singles matches, and 20-7 in doubles.
Arakawa says she thinks the diversity on the team is not only good for the team members themselves, but for the program’s reputation.
“It is a good process for us to understand other cultures, especially at a young age,” Arakawa said. “That’s what makes our team unique and different from other universities.”
With players coming from so many different countries, every player on the team has their own recruiting stories and factors that led them to choose to come to Fayetteville. One factor that some players have in common is the impression and influence of the coaching staff. For Oparenovic, she said it was current assistant coach Luc Godin who caught sight of her at a tournament in Hungary while serving as the assistant coach of the Louisiana-Lafayette tennis team. After accepting the assistant coaching job at Arkansas, Godin and head coach Michael
Hegarty visited Oparenovic in her hometown of Celje, Slovenia, and convinced her to become a Hog.
“I am forever thankful for (Hegarty and Godin) for supporting and believing in me and most importantly giving me the opportunity to play for such an amazing school as the UofA.” Oparenovic said.
Arakawa, like Oparenovic, said she also gives credit to the coaches for her becoming a Razorback.
“Coach (Hegarty) came to visit me in Tokyo and we had a lot of conversations about the UofA,” Arakawa said. “He was so passionate (about me attending) so I decided to join the team.”
The diverse locker room in Arkansas didn’t seem to be any problem for the tennis team as last year they finished with an overall record of 18-10 and an SEC record of 7-6. Arkansas defeated 11 teams featured in the final national rankings, including SEC opponents No. 14 Auburn, No. 16 Texas A&M, No. 21 LSU and No. 24 Tennessee and captured the program’s 15th NCAA Team Championship bid. Arkansas also checked in at No. 19 in the final national rankings after holding a top-20 ranking in each of the last 10 weeks of the season, according to the Arkansas Razorback website.
This season, players are hoping for more success as their fall campaign kicks off on Friday when they travel to Midland, Texas, for the Midland Invitational that will take place from Sept. 15-17. Arkansas will then compete in the Milwaukee Classic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from Sept. 21-24, before traveling to Evanston, Illinois, for the Northwestern Invite from Sept. 29-Oct. 1.