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Oravcova crosses world to make new home at Tech

Friday, February 7, 2020
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Leader file photo Claudia Oravcova has gone 4-4 in singles play and 5-6 in doubles teaming with Ana Jover so far this season for the Tennis Techsters.

Claudia Oravcova’s experience as a collegiate athlete has been anything but easy, and yet the junior from Piestany, Slovakia, has weathered both literal and metaphorical storms to make Louisiana Tech feel like home.

Oravcova’s journey to Tech started in the years before coming to Ruston. Once high school education is over, most Slovak athletes have to make a choice: go pro or stop playing and get a college degree. Oravcova found a third option in Louisiana Tech.

“I’ve been playing tennis for so long, and I knew a lot of girls from Slovakia who came to America to study and play tennis,” she said. “(Tech tennis graduate) Marta Sramkova told me the coach here was nice and the business program was really good, so I came here.”

As is the case for most college students, Oravcova’s first year at Louisiana Tech wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. She initially arrived in Ruston with a bit of a language barrier, an English skill level that would resemble the Spanish or French many Americans’ possess after just a few high school classes. College classes were a struggle, as was making friends.

Making matters worse, Oravcova did not have a banner year on the court. She went 3-14 in dual singles and though she performed better in doubles matches, Oravcova felt anxious about her performances. Before coming to Tech, she had been one of the top performers in Slovakia with national team appearances and a third place finish at the 18U championships on her tennis resume.

“I was so stressed,” she said. “I don’t think I ever played worse than my freshman year here. I was overthinking, and I was worried that I would make my coach mad if I lost.”

However, Tech head coach Amanda Stone and Oravcova’s teammates handled Oravcova’s struggles in a positive way. They continued to encourage her. While Oravcova spent the entire summer between her freshman and sophomore seasons preparing mentally.

The mental preparations paid off as Oravcova posted an 8-7 dual singles record in the spring, including a fivematch winning streak to end the season. She also led the team with 11 dual doubles victories.

“The biggest difference was in my head,” said Oravcova, who also progressed in the classroom, earning C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll accolades. “I was just more chill and was able to enjoy the season.”

Off the court, Oravcova improved her English and built relationships with her teammates. And after admitting that she needed a little luck to pass her first business class without the language skills she has now, Oravcova said she enjoys her classes, especially economics with Dr. Rob Blackstock and management with Dr. Marcia Dickerson.

Once her time at Tech is finished, Oravcova would like to return to Slovakia and help her father with the family coffee business. She is also considering coaching tennis, enjoying the leadership role she currently shares with other upperclassmen on the team.

“The first friends I made were my teammates, because I had to talk to them,” Oravcova said. “Now, I’m trying to help the freshmen in the same way my teammates helped me.”

With other storms weathered, Oravcova and the tennis team had to deal with a more literal storm in April’s tornado. She slept through the storm, which happened after the conclusion of tennis season, and woke up to find that her athletic home would not be usable.

In spite of the challenges, Oravcova is excited about the start of the season. She says that she hopes to be back on the court soon after recovering from an injury, feels well prepared for the season ahead and is in the only place she would want to be.

“I like everything here,” she said. “When I got here I thought ‘This town is really small. I don’t know if there’s anything to do,’ but now I really like it. I like our campus. I like our courts.

“The people here are so friendly and so helpful. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”