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Women’s Tennis: International Flair Featured On Ragin’ Cajuns Women’s Tennis Team

Festival International is a springtime rite of passage for hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors alike,  a virtual gumbo of music, culture, people, and food, representing countries from around the globe.

The 2017 edition of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Women’s Tennis team is cooking up its own version of Festival International.

And this particular gumbo is being served, literally and figuratively, at Cajun Courts.

Head coach Stephanie Vallejos, a native of northern California, has nine women on this year’s squad.  Nine women from nine different countries.

Freshmen include Yasmine Ansari (Morocco), Lucile Delabarre (France), India Shiaelis (Cyprus), and Marina Rodriguez Garcia (Spain).

Sophomore Carla Ortega (Venezuela) is joined by juniors Kelly Drew (New Zealand), Elena Sava (Romania), and Abby Johnson (United States).

The lone senior is Alexandra Way (Australia).

In her second year leading the Cajuns’ women after stints at Northern Arizona and UT Pan American, it is Vallejos’s task to watch over the tennis version of this melting pot of gumbo, occasionally stirring the ingredients as well as monitoring the fire, raising or lowering the heat as necessary as she tries to come up with a product that performs well on the courts.

Although verbal communication can be tough at times, the linguistic versatility and diversity of the team make Vallejos’s job a little easier.  All of the players are at a minimum bi-lingual, several are tri-lingual, and one player, Garcia, actually speaks four languages (French, English, Spanish and regional dialect Catalan), making her quad-lingual.

Drew speaks English and some phrases of Maori, who are the native people of New Zealand.
For Delabarre, French is her first language, but she hasn’t mastered the art of Cajun French yet. "I can only understand about every other word," she says of her attempts to talk to any local tennis fans who happen to speak Cajun French.

Getting over the obstacles of language is one thing.  Battling the sheer number of miles between player and home is another.

"I was pretty home sick at first," relates Drew. "But I’m in my third year here, so things are better."

One other important aspect in battling the inevitable feelings that come with being so far from home is the very nature of the people of south Louisiana.

"Lafayette has a strong sense of acceptance, both in the tennis community as well as throughout the city," explains Vallejos.  "We know we can count on feeling welcome where ever we go in this area.  That means a lot to our team."

Always a culture shock for someone new to South Louisiana comes from the food, particularly crawfish.

Drew will eat them in an etoufee but Delabarre won’t get near any form of the delectable crustaceans..

Says Baton Rouge teammate Johnson, "I’ve tried numerous times to get both of them to at least try boiled crawfish. But I don’t think it is ever going to happen."

The international flavor that is the 2017 UL Women’s Tennis team will face a mirror image of itself on Wednesday when in-state rival McNeese State comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. match at Cajuns Courts.

Eight McNeese players represent eight countries: Hungary, England, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Slovakia, and Serbia.

The Cowgirls’ coach, Helena Besovic, is from Bosnia.

Fans attending Wednesday’s match will hear a variety of accents, hear a few words that simply do not translate very well.

They will also witness service aces, forehand and backhand groundstroke winners from the baseline, volleys into the open court.

And in any country, in any language, that translates the same … tennis is tennis.