SHARE
Nico de Enrique returns a serve in a match against Indiana Tech, Fall 2018.      Ryan Goff || The Hillsdale Collegian

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.”