Meshing diverse cultures nothing new for SDSU men’s tennis

by Austin Gayle, Contributor

With a roster constructed of players from the U.S., Germany, Mexico, Croatia and Denmark, San Diego State’s men’s tennis deals with cultural barriers that most other athletic programs often overlook.

But it’s clearly no problem for the Aztecs.

In 2015, the team finished 19-9 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Redshirt-junior Freddy Gelbrich was named the Co-Mountain West Player of the Year, while he and junior Hendrik Jebens earned a spot on both the all-singles team and all-doubles team.

Jebens, from Stuttgart, Germany, is a part of the larger demographic, as the team is primarily German.

He still understands that in order for the team to come together they must work toward improving communication.

“We help each other, especially off the court, if there are language barriers,” Jebens said. “When new guys are coming in, of course it’s harder for them to learn English. I think it’s definitely helping us bond because we all have a similar experience coming from another country to the U.S. and a big Division I school.”

Though it would appear as if he could remain comfortable within his group of German friends, Jebens’ effort to bring the club closer as a whole allows the entire roster to build confidence as a contributing member of the team.

Sophomore Santiago Cevallos was the only new addition to the team in 2015.

In turn, the Queretaro, Mexico, native initially found it difficult to overcome the language barrier, but he quickly benefited from the support of his team.

Cevallos’ doubles partner, junior Marko Goles-Babic, grew as the season progressed on the court and off the court. 

Both Cevallos and Goles-Babic said  they developed a close relationship over the course of last year. The two finished 6-4 in doubles play.

While it’s ultimately up to guys like Goles-Babic and Jebens to take on leadership roles in the locker room in what can be such a difficult situation, head coach Gene Carswell has also done his part to develop a winning culture through establishing a sense of camaraderie and community.

“We talk about things within our group about having Aztec pride and fighting for this university. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all a part of. We are all a part of that bigger picture,” he said. “Here we are in a beautiful city like San Diego, playing for a great university and we are very fortunate. We’ve got a group that really has bonded well and likes each other.”

With 2015 being his best season in the last decade, Carswell is looking to build on what his team has already accomplished and continue to grow as a unit.

“We’re trying to set the bar a little bit higher,” he said. “We are trying to take the next step and without a doubt I believe we have a group that is capable of qualifying for the NCAA (tournament) and making some noise there.”

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