Spring break: the time when students desert campus, turn off their brains for a week and forget all their responsibilities. However, for some athletes, spring break isn’t for relaxation, instead it’s a time of intense training and competition.
For Long Beach State’s all international women’s tennis team, not having a spring break means more than having to work when the rest of campus is gone. Sacrificing spring break means not being able to travel home and see their families.
“Obviously I’m a little disappointed,” Claire Le Du, a redshirt freshman from Normandy, France, said. “But when we sign here we know that we are not going to be like other students. We know that we’re not going to have spring break and it’s going to be hard.”
Coaching international students is nothing new for head coach Jenny Hilt-Costello, who is in her 23rd year at LBSU. She has watched her team grow close together and bond over the fact they are all far away from their families.
“There’s a transition for any student-athlete coming from high school to Division-1, and of course, these girls are also battling the fact that they are thousands of miles away from home,” Hilt-Costello said. “They have each other as a support group. And as coaches, we’re always here to for them if they need to talk.”
Hilt-Costello notices that the first semester is typically the toughest one for any international student. Once they get settled into a routine and get used to a new culture their play also improves.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of improvement with the team as time goes on,” Hilt-Costello said. “We were really tight with Hawaii, who I think is going to be one of the top teams in the league. We are making a lot of progress and I think we are right there with the top teams in the conference.”
Seven out of the eight players on the roster have been in the United States for less than a year.
The only player used to being away from home so long is redshirt junior Zara Lennon from Grand Bay, Mauritius.
“I’ve had two Christmases without my parents and that has been really weird,” Lennon said. “It can definitely be tough when you want to have a little support from family and friends from home and you don’t really have it.”
Lennon says that although there still can be difficult times, she has grown used to being away from home for so long. It also allows her to appreciate the time she does spend home during the summers even more.
Lennon has also taken on a leadership role, being the only player who has played a season of college tennis before.
Lennon and the team have bonded over the fact they are all international students. The veteran says everyone is interested and loves learning about all the unique cultures they have.
While learning about new cultures is fulfilling in its own way, most if not all the players have had to deal with culture shock and learning to adjust while missing their homes.
Freshman Sheena Masuda lived in Hong Kong, China her whole life. Masuda is of Japanese decent, but her parents moved to Hong Kong so she can focus on tennis while completing school online.
Her hard work paid off as she earned a full-ride scholarship to LBSU. While Masuda was excited to move to California, she admits it was a culture shock.
Further, Masuda was unable to go home over winter break due to strict COVID-19 protocols in Hong Kong.
“Not being able to see my parents over Christmas was hard, but it’s prepared me for spring break,” Masuda said. “Getting used to the culture out here has been tough, but I think I am adjusting well. Although I still haven’t found a good Chinese restaurant out here.”
Even though it is tough, Masuda prioritizes improving her tennis skills and her commitment to LBSU over anything else. She sometimes wishes she was back home with her friends but knows that the sacrifice is worth it.
“Besides the pro level, D-1 is the highest competition you get, and that is why I wanted to come here,” Masuda said. “I’ve definitely improved a lot because I’ve been getting tougher competition and we train at a high level.”
There is a sense of unity amongst the team knowing they have all made the sacrifice to pack up and leave their homes behind. They all deal with missing home and having to deal with calling family and friends in different time zones.
Although they are halfway across the world from their family and friends, they are not alone.
Hilt-Costello expects her team to be ready as usual during the week of break.
“We are going to practice, and practice some more,” Hilt-Costello said. “There are advantages to being a student-athlete but there are also sacrifices as well, and playing over spring break is one of them. They know we have some tough matches ahead of us.”
While the team doesn’t have the freedom that most students take for granted over spring break, they won’t be stuck in Long Beach. The team will travel up north on April 1 to play Cal Poly SLO, then travel to play UC Santa Barbara the following day.
The team has no official plans to do anything on the road trip, but Masuda and Le Du hope there will be enough free time to see Santa Barbara’s beaches and get a sense of what it is like to be on spring break.