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Life in a Top Division 1 Women’s Soccer Program

Although a legitimate professional women’s soccer league has stopped and started a few times in the United States, the pool of outstanding teams and players at the Division 1 college level continues to...

12.01.2012

Steven Lenhart

As part of a Series of interviews with athletes who made the leap from university to professional sport, we spoke to Steven Lenhart, a former college soccer player, who financed his studies with a sports scholarship and is now a professional soccer player in the MLS.

"My college experience was instrumental for me in becoming a pro."

Steven, in 2008 you graduated from college and were drafted to the MLS. How is it to play on such a high level, and how well did college prepare you for a professional career in soccer?

Playing in the MLS has been an awesome time. I have enjoyed improving as a player, learning from experienced guys like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and traveling the world. My college experience was instrumental for me in becoming a pro. I developed under head coach Phil Wolf and really learned how to be a better player and teammate. College was the best time of my life.

While in college what were some of the biggest challenges for you?

I think college was a good time for me to find out who i really was and to have fun. It took me a little while to figure out a good balance of how to spend my time. I eventually learned and then dominated.

Was it easy for you to balance your class schedule with practice and competition?

At first, I had to feel it out, balancing my class schedule, practice and seeing my friends, but it did not take long. I encourage you to be diligent in your schoolwork and you will have more than enough time to get better at your sport.

You were working and living with European soccer players while you were in college. Can you share a little bit about your experience?

My times with my European roommates were some of the best. I learned so much about their culture and how they operate. I also got a chance to teach them about our American way of life, especially how to relax a little bit and not to be so up tight. I had to remind them frequently that there is more to life than just soccer. I was the best man at my German roommates wedding. He will be a friend for life.

Many European players are concerned that their soccer career is over once they go to college. Do you share that opinion?

I never wanted to play professional soccer so it came as a surprise when I got the phone call that I was drafted. This just means that college really prepared me well to play on such a high level, because I never even thought I had a chance to play in the MLS.

What are your future goals for your soccer career?

My future goals are kind of up in the air right now. At some point, I would love to play internationally somewhere and get that experience, I know it is possible. It would be fun to get a shot to play for the U.S. national team one day.

Do you have any advice for young motivated European soccer players who are thinking about studying in the U.S.?

If you think playing and going to school in the U.S. will kill your career, you are wrong. First things first, college will absolutely change your life. You will improve as a person, and if the program is good, as a player. Make sure you do your research on what school has a solid team and coach, and you will enjoy your time in the U.S. Don’t ever let anyone take away your fun.

12.05.2011

© Maivon

As part of our interview series with athletes who made the jump from college to professional sports, we spoke to Peter Luczak, former college tennis player and today a successful pro.

" College gave me the opportunity to grow physically and also mentally as a player"

You played all Grand Slams in the main draw, competed against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and reached a career high ranking of 64, that is a dream for every college player, how did you manage to get there?

I’m not to sure to be honest. I know there was a lot of luck and good fortune which came my way especially in the sense of the people who were around me and shaped me as a person and tennis player.

How old were you when you left to college to the US, and what did your friends and family think about that idea?

I was 18 and had just finished my high school in Melbourne, Australia. We finish the school year in December and in January I was off to Fresno State for the Spring Semester. I think my friends and family were all pretty excited for me especially my dad. I sort of wanted to have a go at satellites straight after high school, but dad persuaded me in going to university, saying there is no future in tennis for me. At the time I think he was probably right.

What was your Australian (or ATP / Junior ITF) ranking when you went to college?

I definitely did not have an ATP ranking when I went to college and I doubt if I had an ITF Junior world ranking. I was never one of the top juniors in Australia. We have 7 states in Australia and I was always between 3 to 6 in my state I would say.

Did you think about playing on the ATP Tour when you went to Fresno State?

Yes, I always wanted giving playing on the tour a go. I wanted as I said earlier to play straight out of high school, but my dad convinced me otherwise. As it turned out it was a great decision. A lot of the juniors from Australia who were my age and a lot better then me at the time went straight to playing pro but stopped for various reasons after a few years. I have no doubt I would have been one of those.

What was your biggest challenge in college?

It is hard to say because I had so much fun and really enjoyed my experience in college. At time to time you would miss your family but you were so busy with tennis, training, studies and hanging out with friends it did not leave much time for getting homesick. Actually using new balls for most practices and matches was tricky to get use to, also the no let rule through a spanner in the works for the first 6 months.

What impact did the years in College have on your career on the ATP Tour?

They had a great impact on me. I feel like I did my biggest improvement during my college years. My coach was great, a fellow Aussie called Michael Hegarty who now coaches the women’s program at Arkansas. It was hard not to improve in that type of environment. With eight young guys trying to push each other and a coach who would work us extremely hard.

What was your major in college and how do you benefit from it today?

I was studying Business/Finance but did not finish my degree. As I mentioned earlier I went in the spring of 98 and also took my senior fall off to play a few satellites and futures as an amateur. So I was there for six semesters (2 fall, 4 spring) so still had a couple of semesters to go before I attained my degree. I was always hoping to go back and finish after my tennis career but I doubt if I ever will now.

What did college teach you about life on the ATP Tour?

I’m not sure but I know the ATP tour taught me college tennis was a great life and pretty easy. I love playing tennis and being on the tour for the most part but it is not always as glamorous as it seems especially when you are starting out playing futures with not a cent to your name. In college everything is already done for you. Hotel rooms and flights are booked, schedule is organized, food and restaurants are taken care of, clothes and equipment is provided you just have to show up and play. And the best part about it you are never on your own.

What advice would you give young players who are thinking about playing on the Tour after and during college?

It obviously depends on how good you are and what sort of college environment you are in but my advice would be, if you are in college stay for as long as you can and make the most of it while you can. The opportunity to improve and work on your game without worrying about money and making points and being able to study at the same time is incredible. I didn’t start playing my best tennis until I was at least 26 so it was still years after I finished playing college; there is plenty of time to go pro.

Why are many tennis players like James Blake, Jonas Björkman, the Bryan Brothers, Lisa Raymond or Jill Craybas so successful on the tour after they leave college?

All those players are much more successful then me and I can only speak from my own experiences. Looking back on it now I know there was no way I was ready for the tour when I was 18. College gave me the opportunity to grow physically and also mentally as a player. Those years from 18 to 21 were the springboard to my career. Instead of being overwhelmed, disillusioned and most likely disappointed with results it gave me the time to really get ready and give it a real crack on the tour.

12.02.2011

Jelena Pandzic

As part of a Series of interviews with athletes who made the leap from university to professional sport, we spoke to Jelena Pandzic, a former college tennis player and now a professional athlete, who recently made it to the second round at the French Open.

"With my university degree I built a second foundation for myself"


Jelena, for many years you lived and practiced in North Rhine-Westfalia in Germany, you even went to school in Leverkusen. How is your connection with Germany today?

My parents still live in Germany, and I have many friends there. I usually spend a couple months a year in Leverkusen. It is a great time for me where I get a chance to catch up with my family and old friends and also get to play some club tennis.

How old were you when you left to college to the US, and what did your friends and family think about that idea?

I was 20 when I left to the USA. Many of my friends where leaving for college in the states and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me as well. At first my parents were not too exited about the idea since it was so far away, but once they learned more about the opportunities I would have in College I had their full support.

What was your biggest challenge in college?

In my first year it was very challenging to get used to the many hours of sitting in the classroom and studying at home. I didn't have a lot of free time but I quickly got used to the fast pace and I learned to manage my time so I could get the best out of college and tennis.

What impact did the years in College have on your career today?

Through college tennis I made the leap to the WTA Tour. Back then I learned what it means to work disciplined at a professional level. With my university degree I built a second foundation for myself and today am able to fully focus on my tennis career.

What was your major in college?

My major was in psychology, I think that too helps me with my game today.

And how did you feel when you made it to the second round at the French Open just one year after you graduated?

It was an amazing feeling to play second round at the French Open. Especially because before college I was never even close to getting into qualifying at any Grand Slam (my highest ranking was around 380). And now only a year after my graduation I was playing in the second round of the main draw, and I also got to play qualifying rounds at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.

Why are many tennis players like James Blake, the Bryan Brothers, Lisa Raymond or Jill Craybas so successful on the tour after they leave college?

Players don't just improve their tennis skills during the college years, but they also mature as a person and as a tennis players. Also, the competition in college tennis is at a very high level which helps players to get ready for the pro tour. 

2008 was a great year for you, you reached a career high ranking of 139, but a serious injury forced you to take a break from tennis. Fortunately, you recovered fully in 2010 and you are starting your comeback, how is that going for you?

My comeback is going pretty well. I've been training at EagleFustar Tennis Academy in Santa Clara since February this year. I played a couple of tournaments so far this year, am training hard and working on different aspects of my game to get to the top 100.

12.02.2011

Miroslaw Bulzacki - Wembley 1972

Maivon welcomes Miroslaw Bulzacki to the team. As one of Poland's most successful soccer players, at Maivon he is responsible for the scouting, assessment and selection of potential soccer players from Eastern Europe. More info can be found here.

Video: WM semi-finals 1974, Poland - Germany

12.02.2011

Picture Souce: sxc

The NCAA puts a new genetic screening rule into effect this month, requiring all Division I athletes to be screened for a genetic sickle cell trait. All incoming student-athletes will need to be tested unless they have already been tested, or sign a waiver if they decline testing. The new rule comes as part of a settlement between Rice University and the parents of college football player Dale Lloyd. Read the complete story on CNN.

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