hen Vicky Maes got off the bus in Tempe to compete in her first collegiate tournament Ä the Arizona State Invitational Oct. 14 Ä she was not expecting to reach the semifinals. In fact, Maes hadn't even imagined playing in the tournament a year ago.
Maes, a freshman on the Arizona women's tennis team, is attending the UA on a scholarship that has brought her from Belgium, her native country.
More than one factor was involved in her decision to attend Arizona. In addition to the attraction of being able to enjoy Arizona's great tennis weather, Maes was lured to the desert by an ex-Wildcat and women's coach Becky Bell.
"I had never even been to the States before," Maes said. "Arizona recruited me and gave me a trip out here. When I talked with (former UA player) Alix Creek I made a decision to come here."
Said Bell: "Alix Creek happened to be out on the circuit when she met Vicky. Vicky was interested in going to school and Alix said she was a pretty good tennis player. When I recruited her and brought her out here, I hadn't ever seen her hit a ball yet."
Maes said the experience hasn't been entirely what she expected, however, as her off-court life has changed with her changing of continents.
"I was really worried about school," said Maes, who hadn't been a student during the two years before she enrolled at the UA. "In Belgium it is almost impossible to mix college with athletics. Doing both wouldn't have been an option. Here in the States I was given the opportunity to do both. I'm so busy I really haven't had a chance to worry about it, but my schoolwork is coming along fine. It is great that foreigners have a chance to come out and compete."
Said Bell: "You never know what to expect with foreign players. It is almost impossible to see them play unless you travel overseas. I mean, they can be ranked 20th in France, but what does that mean in America? You have to rely on connections and maybe a former player like Alix who recommends them."
Maes attributes her early success to Bell's coaching, along with the team atmosphere. In any sport, whether played individually or as a team, the attitude and work ethic of the team has an impact on all of its players. To Maes, it is this attitude that helps her fit into life in America.
"The team is great, and everyone's getting along well," Maes said. "I have fun when I'm out there. That's important to all of us."
Coach Bell agrees.
"Team spirit is really an intangible," Bell said. "When you're all working toward a common goal you have to work together. This team's chemistry is really great. I would say it's better than any year we have had here."
Maes said her first tournament went surprisingly well.
She hadn't played competitively for more than two months and was often stifled by the rain that had players coming on and off the court all day. She knew the competition would be tough, but she was happy with her performance.
In her first match at the ASU Invitational, she defeated Keirsten Alley of Cal 6-1, 4-6, 6-5. She then defeated third-seeded Joella Schad of ASU in three sets 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 to reach the semifinals. Maes was finally eliminated by sixth-seeded Ann Pastor of Texas 6-4, 6-3.
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