BEMIDJI – Sophie Groen is not from here.
Far from it, in fact. The second female tennis student from Bemidji State hails from Uigeest, Netherlands. So how the hell did she end up making it to northern Minnesota? His reasoning was similar to that of many high school graduates in the United States.
“After high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Groen said. “And a lot of my friends that I played tennis with, they all went overseas to play college tennis. And that’s why I was like, OK, let’s try.
She certainly had a good try Friday at the Gillett Wellness Center. After a singles set No. 1 against Winona State’s Rachel Kelly, Groen fought back to win two straight sets and win the match 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
But the Beavers fell short of an overall win on Friday, losing 5-2 to the Warriors.
BSU head coach Kyle Fodness was impressed not only with Groen’s talent and temperament, but also with how she fitted into the team despite her unfamiliar surroundings.
“You never know with a player, whether it’s from Bagley or the Netherlands, what he’s really going to be like on a team until he’s on campus,” Fodness said. “And from the first moment she arrived here, she put every foot in order. She really is a great leader. She’s a very good teammate. She is very coachable and an excellent competitor.
Groen’s game on Friday was a good example of this, as she had to pull herself together from a big deficit without a jolt.
“She handled this game like she was on the professional circuit for 15 years,” Fodness said. “She was just very calm. She knew what she had to do. She knew when she wasn’t. She knew when she was. She knew she was going to come back and eventually win. It was very calm and professional.
Groen had no choice but to take a hands-on approach to his time in Bemidji. With only limited English experience prior to her trip to Minnesota, she had to stay steady through a number of challenges and new experiences.
“It’s kind of the same (academically),” Groen said. “But the language barrier is definitely difficult. But I’m working my way through it. In high school, we learned English for two years. So the rest was basically on my own.
However, she didn’t do it entirely alone and credits Fodness for facilitating her transition to the United States.
“Kyle was definitely a big factor (in) my decision to go here,” Groen said. I also spoke to (senior Laney Rutkowski) before coming here, so that helped me too.
And now she is a full member of the team. She was joined in victory on Friday by No. 2 singles Shaelyn Johnson (2-6, 6-4, 6-0) and third doubles pair of Isabela Nelson and Lexi Leitner (6-2).
The loss dropped the Beavers to 3-4 as a team this season and 1-4 in the NSIC. They will return to the Gillett at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 19 for a doubleheader against Upper Iowa and Minnesota Crookston.