By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The tennis programs at Bluefield State College truly circle the globe.
The student-athletes competing for BSC hail from every continent on the planet other than icy Antarctica.
The women’s team is comprised of students from the nations of Macedonia, Spain, Colombia and Zimbabwe — plus Bluefield, Princeton and Powhatan, Va.
“They’re really nice girls,” said Louis Belt, who coaches both the women’s and men’s teams. “We’re really making a commitment to being as competitive as we can.”
The men’s team includes top-flight players from India, plus New Zealand, Portugal, Poland, Sweden, and Florida in the United States.
Their academic majors are almost as diverse as their origins.
Marijana Gjorglkevska, a redshirt junior, grew up in Skopje, in the southern European nation of Macedonia. She sat out last year with an ACL tear in her left knee, but when her new teammates started arriving last summer she was ready to help them out.
“I was here and somebody helped me, so I wanted to make sure they got help,” she said. “I would never sit and let somebody struggle. It’s hard when you’re here and don’t know anything about the college ... .
“It feels good afterward when you help somebody.”
She said that her knee “feels, pretty good, it’s still not 100 percent. I don’t trust it, but physically, I’m OK. I’m happy I can play tennis again.”
When she was new to campus, she had to deal with puzzled stares about Macedonia until she figured out a couple of references that most people know.
“When I mention it’s north of Greece, I think they know,” she said. “Alexander the Great is from there. And it’s near Serbia. A lot of tennis players know [Novak] Djokovic is from Serbia.”
She is pleased that the rebuilt women’s tennis team has picked up wins this season.
“I think the mindset is that we can do it,” she said. She is already thinking about the “next generation” of players who will be convinced to enroll at Bluefield State.
“The more you win, the more people will look at it,” she said. “It builds the reputation for the school.”
Gjorglkevska is a computer science major. She said, “In the beginning it was harder. Now I’m used to it. (But) it requires a lot of work. It’s not very easy.”
Marta Briales, a freshman from Seville in Spain, said, “We are from different cultures, but we are very good friends. We help each other.” She said BSC students “want to take time to help you.”
Briales said, “This is a big opportunity, to play tennis and to study.” A psychology major, she said, “I (would) like working at a hospital, maybe physical therapy. I like kids.”
“I’m proud of my team,” she added. “When we play matches, I always have to give everything. If we lost, no problem. We have to try to do more. ... We have to learn.”
Isabella Cubillos, a freshman from the Colombian city of Cali, is majoring in business at Bluefield State.
Her new teammates “showed me, like, the buildings,” she said. “They were very friendly with me, the guys and the girls, all of them.”
Asked her opinion about America, she said, “It is incredible. The people are amazing — like all of Colombia. I have only good things to say about them.”
One cultural stereotype she had to deal with, however, was many Americans’ impression of Cali as a center for drug trafficking.
“It’s not cool to say, ‘In your country you sell drugs,’ ” she said. “Things in Colombia have changed. The problems we had in the past, that has been diminished.”
She said prior to enrolling in college, she played in national and international tournaments as part of Cali’s advanced tennis group. “We had a very good group,” she said.
Tafadzwa Mawisire, a freshman from the African nation of Zimbabwe, was encouraged to come to America by a couple of her sisters, Vimbai and Fadzai, who have played tennis for Shaw University and Southern Illinois respectively.
She said Fadzai loves playing at the college level. “It’s been good for her tennis,” Tafadzwa said. “Since the level is high, she wanted me to come here.”
She said she has been playing tennis “since I can remember — my dad said when I was 2. I was a runner-up as a 6-year-old in my first tournament.” She played “a few tournaments back home, all of it in preparation for college.”
“If you love something, you want to enjoy it. It doesn’t feel like work.”
Originally from the town of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa is majoring in pre-nursing. She said she arrived a week late for the start of the semester, but “I’ll be OK.”
She said about her teammates, “We get along well. It’s been fun. We spend a lot of time together, playing tennis together. ... I learned from them, they learn from me.”
As a result of her exposure to new cultures, she said, “I’m eating new stuff here. Some things I don’t really like. Some, I do.”
From the men’s team, freshman Jacob Carey from Tauranga in New Zealand said the adjustment to living in Bluefield “was all right. I fit in pretty quickly with my teammates so it was easy. ... They were really nice guys. As soon as I got here they made me feel welcome.”
Bryttnie Morrow of Bluefield, a graduate of Bluefield High School, was a two-time qualifier for the state prep tennis tournament while at BHS, and earned all-state honors.
“I’ve been working on it (tennis) since I was a kid,” she said. “It’s a family tradition for me.”
As a veteran of two-plus years on the Bluefield State team, she wanted to help her new teammates as well. “I helped them get what they needed — IDs, learning the facilities, classes. I made sure they felt at home.”
“This is the first year the team feels like a family. They get along great.” She added, “I’m impressed with all the different majors.”
Morrow is an education major, preparing to teach kindergarten through age 6 with specialties in science and English.
The Lady Blues’ tennis season began with a 6-3 win at West Virginia Wesleyan College, breaking a 20-match losing streak dating back to September 2010. It was a boost for the spirits of everyone on the team.
Cubillos said, “Now, we are improving. I am really excited. My doubles partner is good. We work together as a team completely different from last year.”
Gjorglkevska agreed. “Most of us have played for clubs as individuals. It feels good to have support from your teammates when you play. It is a different feeling.”
Morrow said, “I’m very hopeful for this season. I feel a lot more confident with the girls we have this year.”
“We still have to work on a lot of fine tuning,” she said. “Once we all get used to the whole thing, I think we’ll be set.”
— Contact Tom Bone at