BY MITCHELL NORTHAM
Sport is a universal language. Whether it’s played on a court or field, indoors or outdoors, the rules are the same no matter where you go.
One thing that can be different however, is the culture and lifestyle around the sport. Sometimes a sport can be more fun if played in a different place and being a part of a team can help change that.
That’s one thing that Charlotte Walker is learning as a member of the Salisbury University women’s tennis team.
Walker is a foreign-exchange student at Salisbury University this semester through a program at her home school at Sterling University in Scotland. She picked Salisbury because they had her major – accounting – and because they had a tennis team. However, Walker didn’t anticipate how different an American tennis program would be from that at her home.
She also didn’t anticipate how much she would enjoy being a part of the American sporting culture.
“We are all a part of a team, we train to together, we run together and I absolutely love it here,” Walker said. “It’s a different mentality and I love that it’s compulsory and the coaches are so enthusiastic and that’s one thing we don’t have at home.”
Walker has been on the tennis courts since she was nine-years-old, but in Scotland if you’re on the tennis team it isn’t a commitment like it is here in America, and you don’t feel like a member of a team.
“I was the captain when I was home, but here you really feel a part of a team whereas at home it just feels like a group of friends getting together to play tennis,” Walker said. “Here the team is so important and you want each other to win and you want the team to win.”
Here at Salisbury, the tennis roster is made up of nine women and they all travel to the games. In Scotland, games are only played on Wednesday’s, and if you have a test or studies or anything else going on, you don’t have to go to the match.
“It’s not compulsory,” Walker said. “Sport is such a huge part of American culture and at home sports are only that big if you’re on a scholarship and my university doesn’t offer any female scholarships for tennis.”
Luckily for Walker, Salisbury University – as a Division III program – doesn’t offer any athletics scholarships. If they did, she wouldn’t have been able to play here by NCAA rules because she played for a club team in Scotland.
Still, even after Walker had made her decision to come to Salisbury for a semester through the exchange program at Sterling, there was no guarantee she would be on the team.
“Originally it was just an e-mail that I got from her, like a feeler, and she just wanted to know if she could hit with the girls and train, not necessarily ‘can I be on the team?’” Head Coach Randy Halfpap said. “I didn’t really think of it as a recruiting situation, everything was sort of, matter of fact, in the beginning. I asked her if she would be interested in playing on the team if that was something that was even possible.”
Halfpap and the athletics department worked through the NCAA eligibility requirements and paperwork and a few hours later, Walker was eligible to play for the Sea Gulls.
“Everything was good, so then I was like, alright, time to find out if she’s any good,” Halfpap said.
Walker had a friend record her playing some on a cell phone and sent the video a little later in an e-mail to Halfpap. He liked what he saw and told her that there would be a spot for her.
“I made the decision where I said, if she’s going to be on the team then she’s going to be on the team,” Halfpap said. “It wasn’t going to be one of those things where she’s there and I don’t let her play.”
“I had no idea how I would fit in because (Halfpap) had never seen me play before so I didn’t know what to expect,” Walker said. “So when I arrived I hit with a few of the girls before the semester started and they were like ‘oh, you’ll definitely fit in on the team. You’re good.’”
The other girls on the team took to Walker right away and made her feel at home, something that at first she was nervous about and didn’t know if she would fit in or not.
“The first day we met her she was super outgoing and we all knew she was going to be a good addition to the team and it’s continued to be that way,” sophomore Claudia Lohn said.
When practice started for the tennis team, Halfpap tried to pair Walker up with several different doubles partners, but her play didn’t seem to mesh with anyone else’s right away until she paired with Lohn.
“He started partnering me and Charlotte up together a lot more during practice so I started to get a feel of how to play with her,” Lohn said. “We balance each other out really well. We play more of the same and we hit more hard and hit more flat balls.”
From the first match to now, the pair has developed a strong chemistry even though they haven’t been together for long.
“We know where we’re going and we’re working on using signals more now,” Lohn said. “Her strength is more at the net while I play back on the baseline so we balance each other out well.”
“I think doubles is nice because you have somebody there on the court with you to speak to and work out. Doubles is very tactical,” Walker said. “We get along very well and we’ve gotten pretty close.”
Lohn and Walker have performed well as doubles so far this season – posting a 4-1 record and helping the tennis team as a whole reach a record of 5-1. Walker also plays singles and has a record of 3-2 so far, but is improving and has the opportunity to move up in seeding as the season progresses.
“I envision her being much higher in the lineup,” Halfpap said. “She’s still getting a feel for everything. The girls talk about rivalries and stuff and she doesn’t really know what that means. She just hears it and knows that it’s important so she gets a little nervous about certain stuff. Now that she’s a little more acclimated the nerve aspect will start to go away.”
One adjustment that the team and Walker have had to make is adjusting to her accent and the team’s American ones. Walker just recently understood their pre-game chant: “1-2-3! Gulls!”
“Honestly, until about two weeks ago I thought they were saying goals. As in like, we’re working towards goals,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t understand me because we have a really fast accent so I have to slow it down, but not so much, it’s still English.”
The rest of the girls on the team have tried to impersonate Walker’s accent too, but most have failed.
“The girls on the team try to copy my accent, but they’re not so good at it. No one has quite got it yet, they want to change it to English and that’s the worst thing to do,” Walker said. “At the end of the season they said they were going to have a competition to see who can do the best Scottish accent, so I’ll try to do an American accent then.”