The LBSU women’s tennis team has had at least one American player for the past decade, if not longer.
This year, head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello leads her first all-international women’s tennis team for Long Beach State in the first season back since before the pandemic.
Hilt-Costello said this might be the first time she has coached an all-international team since becoming head coach in 1997.
“Our philosophy in recruiting is we want the best available players who want to be here and be a part of Beach tennis,” said Hilt-Costello, a nine-time winner of the Big West Women’s Coach of the Year.
Hilt-Costello does a majority of her recruiting through the internet. Students from California are seen in person she said, but out-of-state players are tried out virtually.
The head coach said there’s not much of a difference between watching a tennis player in person versus seeing them through the internet.
“Sometimes, maybe the camera angle isn’t as great as you would like it to be,” she said. “But, like I said, the convenience of being able to download match play or live stream, it has changed the recruiting game.”
The head coach said it’s fun getting to know the different international players. The foreign students share their different cultures with each other, such as how they would celebrate holidays like Halloween or Christmas in their home country.
“They share a lot of similarities. They’re a long way from home which is something they can bond on,” Hilt-Costello said.
To support the team members with their homesickness, Hilt-Costello said she and her assistant coach would schedule weekly one-on-one meetings with the tennis players to check in on their well-being.
The last game the LBSU women’s tennis team played was in March 2020. The rest of the season was canceled due to the rising spread of the coronavirus. When matches resumed in spring 2021, Hilt-Costello and the Director of Athletics for LBSU, Andy Fee, announced the team had opted out of the competition.
Hilt-Costello said that at the time of the decision, the team could not access the athletic facilities or the tennis courts. The girls would be on campus she said, but they would be quarantined in their dorms.
“In terms of evaluating, it made more sense for everybody to stay home to be with their families,” the head coach said. “Otherwise, they would be coming here to be isolated alone in their room.”
Hilt-Costello said the players felt the limited two weeks of training was not worth competing in the shortened six-week season. The team chose to opt out of the Big West spring games and save their eligibility for the following full year.
The head coach said training in the spring would not have been the same, especially without competitions.
Hilt-Costello said she couldn’t require the tennis players to film their practice from home, and many of them lived in countries with severe lockdown conditions, so they couldn’t leave their homes to practice elsewhere. However, weekly team meetings and individual meetings were held to keep track of player progress and boost team morale.
Zara Lennon, a player in her fourth year, said the environment of the group is very supportive.
“I think what helps us the most is communication,” Lennon said. “Everyone has a different culture so we try to communicate the best we can with each other.”
Hilt-Costello said that the redshirt junior Lennon is the only player on the roster this year who knows what a full season feels like, having played for the team since her freshman year at LBSU. Besides Lennon, her other seven team members are freshmen, and half of the team are redshirts.
Hilt-Costello also noted that because many of the players are young and haven’t played a full season before, it’s all going to be a learning curve for them ahead.
“Really, I just want them to take it in,” she said. “Areas they came to us and wanted to work on, I hope they feel that they made progress.”