The Virginia Tech athletic program has achieved national prominence with high national rankings, All-America certificates, and championships by the dozens, and international student-athletes are a contributing factor.
From men's basketball to women's basketball, from women's tennis to men's soccer, from softball to golf -- the Hokie roster currently lists at least 20 international athletes from 14 countries competing on the university's 21 varsity teams.
"Our international student-athletes are very motivated to get a good education, graduate, and work hard at their tennis," says Tech women's tennis coach Anne Jones, who sports five international athletes on her roster. "Having that many individuals from that many different countries offers a wide variety of cultural differences, and we learn a lot from them."
"These guys have experience playing at a higher level than most Americans just out of high school," said Jerry Cheynet, Tech men's soccer coach. "The international students also bring their culture to share with their teammates."
Like U.S. student-athletes, international athletes must adapt to late practices, tiring road trips, a non-existent social life, and difficulty in keeping up with studies. But foreign born athletes also must learn American culture.
"There's the language barrier, new foods, and a whole new lifestyle to get used to," says Alvaro Tor, a basketball player from Barcelona, Spain.
The language barrier is the biggest obstacle, says Maria Albertsson, a Swedish member of the Tech women's basketball team, who remembers how extremely frustrated she was at being unable to express herself when she first came to the United States.
Most international athletes, however, offset their adjustments with the advantages of getting a U.S. education at Virginia Tech. "Compared to some of my friends at home, I've set a lot more goals for my future," says Jesus Rodriguez, a native of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, who plays men's basketball for the Hokies. "I have a lot more choices after graduation, and now I have the courage to take a lot more chances."
Missiles lit the sky at night, and days echoed with the distant pop of machine gun fire in the war-torn world that Stanislav Licul left in Pula, Croatia. "Here, I do not have to worry whether the school is going to be closed because we have no heat or because a jet fighter might drop bombs on us. I don't have to worry about what is going to happen to me the next day," says the Tech men's soccer player. "I wanted to study electrical engineering, and Tech's great electrical engineering department will give me a lot of opportunities.
"I do get homesick sometimes." Licul adds. "My family has always been a source of inspiration. Without them, I would not be half of what I am today. I miss them a lot."
Daga Mrozek, who hails from Poland and moved with her family to Germany a few years ago, also misses her kin. A member of the tennis team, she decided to leave her family to study in the United States, where athletics and higher education can be pursued at the same time. "There really isn't such a thing as education and sports at the same institution in Europe. That is what I love about the United States -- you can do both, go to college and be an athlete at the same time."
Virginia Tech's status as a global university is evident even on its athletic teams. Names like Stanislav Licul, Maria Albertsson, and Sabrina and Vanessa Pardo (a twin tennis team duo from France) are appearing in the Tech sports news. So the next time you attend a Tech athletic event, look for a bit of international flair.
Bryan Messerly is an assistant sports information director in the Virginia Tech Athletic Department.
by Jack Williams
Although North Carolina soundly defeated Virginia Tech in the Toyota Gator Bowl game Jan. 1, Hokie fans can still take great pride in the rise of Tech football to unprecedented heights in recent years. Here are some of the accomplishments the Hokies have made under Coach Frank Beamer since 1993:
-- Tech is one of only 11 teams in the country to play in five consecutive bowl games.
-- The Hokies have won 27 games in the past three seasons, one of the best marks recorded by any team in college football.
-- Tech claimed Big East Football Conference championships in 1995 and 1996.
The Gator Bowl this season, however, clearly was not one of Tech's shining hours. North Carolina, the nation's sixth ranked team, overwhelmed the Hokies in a 42-3 victory. The only highlight for the Hokies was a 40-yard field goal by all-star kicker Shayne Graham.
Tech was the winner in one category on this bowl outing. For the fifth straight year, Hokie fan support far exceeded that of its opponent. Remember the Sugar Bowl experience in 1995 when more than 25,000 Hokie fans saw Tech upset Texas, 28-10? And how about the 1996 season, when more than 20,000 Tech fans were on hand at the Orange Bowl when power-packed Nebraska toppled Tech, 41-21?
This time, Tech's fan support, though not as large as in the past, was more than double that of the Tar Heels. Tech's supporters enjoyed a variety of festive events during Gator Bowl week, although the game was not one of them.
The simple truth is that Tech was not the same dynamic team at the end the football season as it had been early in the year. Injuries to key players, particularly quarterback Al Clark and receiver Shawn Scales, took their toll. The Hokies, however, can look back on a blazing 4-0 start and an early season thumping of Syracuse, the team that ultimately won the Big East Conference championship.
Tech now turns its attention to the new season in 1998 and prospects are bright. The Hokies return a host of key performers and currently are enjoying one of the school's best recruiting years.
In Tech football, the best may be yet to come!
Jack Williams is sports information director at Virginia Tech.