When senior Ivanhoe Lissanevitch returned home to Nepal in March, he thought it would be a temporary break from playing college tennis stateside. By August, he was unable to return to the United States, missing the fall season with no more certainty the situation would improve when he needs to come back in January.
In the Great Midwest Athletic Conference and beyond, the fate of the spring collegiate tennis season remains uncertain. Between fluctuating international travel restrictions, recent coronavirus case surges, and new state lockdowns, administrators have been unable to make a definitive call. The G‑MAC office’s decision is scheduled for late January.
“At this point, we’re in a holding pattern to see what happens,” head coach Keith Turner said. “Let’s hope no crazy decisions are made.”
One reason for the uncertainty is the large percentage of international players in NCAA Division II men’s tennis, which reached about 58% in 2020 according to scholarshipstats.com. This, up from 20% in 2006, gives tennis the highest percentage of foreign students in all NCAA sports which has undermined tennis programs across the country.
“It’s very sad for a lot of tennis teams because they had so many international students just cancelled the seasons,” senior Nico de Enrique said. “Tennis has been one of the most affected sports by COVID.”
The effects have been felt by both Division I and Division II conferences this fall. The Midwest and Southeast were the only two regions to host the fall ITA Regional Small College Championships. But still, the concern of worsening international conditions has Turner’s attention.
“I know I’m not the only coach to deal with this,” Turner said. “How it’s going to work in the spring, no one’s really sure. It sounds like we’re going to have some kind of a season, but who knows if coaches aren’t going to have their players coming back?”
Hillsdale’s three international players, Bogdan Janicijevic from Serbia, de Enrique from Spain, and Lissanevitch from Nepal are all at home over the winter break and are still uncertain about their return in January.
“Right now is pretty tough. I’m actually a little but worried about how the situation is going to be,” Janicijevic said. “Everything is closing again and they’re thinking about bringing people in houses again, so I don’t know how it’s going to be in a month, honestly. It could be pretty bad.”
Last summer, Janicijevic said he wasn’t sure what was going to happen until August, the month he was supposed to return to Hillsdale. He said the only reason he was able to come back was because Serbia is outside of the European Union, which imposed travel restrictions on the U.S.
“That was pretty lucky,” he said. “After that it was pretty smooth. I was flying for more than 30 hours because I was waiting in long lines at the airport and had more flights that usual, but it was much better than I expected.”
Despite the factors out of their control this winter, both Janicijevic and de Enrique said they have no reservations about coming back and playing this spring.
“I will definitely feel comfortable coming back. I was comfortable coming back in August. I’ve seen people get COVID,” Janicijevic said. “A lot of my friends got it and were back playing tennis in a week or something and they were fine. If I’m able to come back I will 100%.”
De Enrique agreed.
“That’s a personal opinion. How scared are you from COVID?” de Enrique said. “For me, I’m not that worried.”
The first wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the summer prevented de Enrique from returning home to Mallorca, Spain after his senior biochemistry research during summer session. He stayed in Hillsdale until the fall term, which he said is the only reason he was on campus this fall.
“I needed to stay in Hillsdale to do my research and after wasn’t able to go back to Spain,” de Enrique said. “If I went back to Spain I wouldn’t have been able to come back to America. Things got very messy and I ended up staying in Hillsdale for the whole summer.”
Returning home before Thanksgiving break presented additional challenges for de Enrique, who left Hillsdale on Nov. 21 to avoid having to meet a stringent PCR test requirement to return to Spain. The new law that went into effect Nov. 23 requires travelers to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of entering the country, which de Enrique said is hard to do for most international students.
“If you’re an international student, it takes two days to get into your country. How are you going to get the PCR result in such a short time?” de Enrique said.
Despite the complications Janicijevic and de Enrique faced, they still were able to play this fall. Janicijevic, de Enrique and the rest of the Chargers’ contributions to the team this fall resulted in good performances at the ITA Regional in September and a dominant showing at a home invitational between conference rivals.
The pandemic prevented Lissanevitch from returning to Hillsdale at all during the fall and still threatens his ability to return this spring. And many say the team is not complete without Lissanevitch, who played no. 2 singles and no. 1 doubles with Charlie Adams, ‘19, last year before the season was cut short.
“[It] is a huge loss for us because he’s one of our leaders and hardest working guys who shows the younger guys how to practice right,” Turner said about Lissanevitch in September.
Lissanevitch has been missed by de Enrique, too, who said he also understands the challenges he’s facing.
“Ivanhoe is a very important player for our team and he hasn’t been able to come back because it’s been harder for him with the restrictions,” de Enrique said.
Nepal restricted travel to chartered flights that are expensive and unreliable. That was a main roadblock for Lissanevitch in August.
“There were extreme restrictions to be able to even enter the country, let alone leave the country,” Lissanevitch said. “There were also certain bans entering the U.S. It was just not possible or feasible for me to come back during that time.”
When he went home during the initial lockdown in the spring, Lissanevitch said he wasn’t expecting the situation to escalate the way it did.
“I guess nobody knew what the turnout would be. In my head, I was thinking everything will be okay soon and I’ll probably get to go back,” he said. “That wasn’t the case. At a certain point I knew I was stuck, so I was just preparing for the worst.”
In addition to missing his second to last semester to play collegiate tennis, the restriction has also posed academic challenges stemming from living in Nepal with an 11-hour time difference, Lissanevitch said.
“The timing is really off living here,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest struggles I have, because [professors] are being quite accommodating, but the biggest problem has been communication and even responding to emails quickly.”
Though still worried about the likelihood of coming back and issues that the indoor tennis season poses that fall outdoor tennis did not, Lissanevitch said he is nonetheless planning on returning to Hillsdale by the beginning of the semester that’s now just weeks away.
“I am definitely trying to come back. My goal is to come back,” Lissanevitch said. “If everything goes well, if things open up and get better, if the vaccine starts coming out, and things get loosened out, and if spring semester tennis is going to happen, then I’m definitely going to try my best to come back.”