The University of Memphis men’s tennis team features players from all over the world. With only one American-born player, this young group has bonded quickly this season and has earned a ranking of 27 in the country.
Recruiting internationally is not as expensive as recruiting in America, head coach Paul Goebel said.
“It may sound a little crazy, but from my experience it has been a little cheaper,” Goebel said. “To get the top American players, a lot of times you have to make multiple tournament and in-home visits, and an official visit on top of that. With my international recruiting, there is usually one face-to-face visit with the rest being via social media or email.”
Paul Goebel has been the head coach of the Tigers for ten seasons and has developed many recruiting contacts out of the country over that time.
“It’s definitely a process, but it has gotten easier over time,” Goebel said. “I travelled to many tournaments and tennis clubs in Europe to get our name out and recruit. Also word gets out from former players. They liked our program so much that they’ve told others back home about it.”
The first semester can be an adjustment for the foreign players. Goebel said it takes some time for his players to get accustomed to life on an American college campus.
“There can be a bit of a language barrier in the beginning,” Goebel said. “I usually spend a lot of time with them individually at first to get them accustomed to everything. After that first semester, there is usually no problem.”
Coach Goebel loves coaching and interacting with players from different backgrounds and cultures.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” Goebel said. “They come here with a grateful attitude and super excited to work. They’re a well prepared, hardworking bunch.”
Kai Lemke is one of only four upperclassmen on the team. The German native even signed with a recruiting agency.
“I signed with a German recruiting agency called “UniExperts,’” Lemke said. “They helped me find the perfect university for me and contacted coaches for me. Also, a lot of coaches are in contact with agencies like this all over Europe. After that Chris Doerr, our assistant coach, contacted me, and we talked a lot over Skype and Facebook and email.”
After visiting Mississippi State, Auburn and NC State, Lemke decided Memphis was the best fit for him.
“The boys on the team were very welcoming and gave me a good impression of what I can expect from Memphis,” Lemke said. “I liked the idea to build something big in Memphis. That is why I chose to come here.”
Kai Lemke described his first semester as rough.
“For the non-native speakers like me, Jan, Felix and Chris, it was relatively tough to understand everything,” Lemke said. “Sometimes you also don’t want to speak that much because you are afraid of making mistakes. But after a short period of time, we figured out the best way to improve your English is by speaking it even if you make mistakes.”
Being so far from friends and family, the players can get homesick at times. But the tightness of the team and the fact that there are others in the same position helps.
“The boys and coaches are my family, so it is not too bad,” Lemke said. “We all get along really well, which is not given in every team. I appreciate everyone on the team and I am glad to have met them, which makes our time in Memphis unforgettable.”
Sophomore and native German Felix Rauch was also recruited through social media. After a ten day recruiting visit to other schools like NC State and Oklahoma State, he decided to come to Memphis.
“What I liked about the U of M was the dedication and commitment to the tennis program of every person around it,” Rauch said. “Also, the team was super nice, and I liked the coaches a lot.
“Another nice fact was The Racquet Club of Memphis, which is where we practice and play our matches. (It) is a great facility full of nice people that love tennis and support the Tigers.”
Sophomore and fellow German Chris Patzanovsky believes everyone coming from different backgrounds gives the team an advantage and makes them stronger as a unit.
“The personalities on the team vary a lot and so everybody has their unique input on the team,” Patzanovsky said. “But at the same time, we have people form the same country that we can get back to whenever there are more personal issues. We have teammates that might understand us more for certain problems. But in general it makes us better individually as we get to learn from so many different personalities.”
Kai Lemke readies his grip has he waits for his opponent to serve. Lemke, from Germany, is one of four upperclassmen on the tennis team.