As an older sibling who was raised in a sports family, Aline Opala has traveled around the world and has landed a position as the SIU tennis graduate assistant.
Opala has entered her first year as an assistant to head coach Audra Anderson. Although this is her first time as a tennis coach in the United States, Opala is very familiar with the tennis game.
The new Saluki grew up in Chatuzange Le Goubet, France where her father Boguslaw, played professional international basketball and was selected to play in Olympic games.
Her mother Lilyane worked as a referee in Boguslaw’s games. Taking after her parents, Opala began to play basketball at the age of five, but found her true passion in tennis alongside her younger sister.
When Opala was 12-years-old, she had the chance to play in the tennis French Championship game. As a high school student, Opala also learned three different languages.
“In France you can get either a literature diploma, a science diploma, or an economic diploma,” she said. “I was in literature so I chose to learn a few different languages.”
By the end of high school, Opala was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and English. As college was approaching, Opala began to challenge herself on the court. Her goal was to attend law school and play tennis at a university.
“Playing tennis on a scholarship in the United States was always my dream,” Opala said. “So I worked really hard on my ACT’s and other tests so I could get a scholarship to go to any school I wanted to go to.”
Opala found an interest in New Mexico State University, and decided it was the place for her, but only stayed at NMSU for a year.
Opala returned home to France to continue her law studies. The transition was difficult for her, as the teaching techniques and grading scales in France were very different than in the United States.
“In the United States the teachers try to help you the best they can,” she said. “But in France there are like 400 people in each class taking notes.”
While law school was taking a toll on Opala, she continued to play tennis as a stress reliever. She was accepted to play higher-level tennis at a national center where she also qualified for the French championship.
Opala spent a few months living in different areas of Europe to watch her boyfriend play professional hockey. His NHL career forced Opala to put her love for tennis on hold. The two resided in Italy and Denmark for a year.
“It might seem like living in all of those places is the good life, but you have to make a lot of sacrifices,” Opala said. “You are not home for Christmas and you have to constantly change your address and meet new people wherever you go.”
Although she was a consistent traveler, she never stopped working toward receiving her degree. Opala was taking online courses, but at the end of each month she was forced to return to France to take exams. A year after her time in Denmark, she moved to Germany before eventually heading back to her hometown.
Once she returned with a degree under her belt, she struggled to find a job in her area. She then sent her resume to SIU where Anderson found an interest in her.
“She’s a little bit older, has more experience and has worked in a lot of different areas,” Anderson said. “She has worked with a lot of great coaches, so I knew we would make a good connection and she has definitely brought a lot of new ideas to our program.”
As a graduate assistant, Opala assists in practices and fills in when Anderson is absent. She also helps with recruiting, and teaching techniques to the players. Anderson said the Salukis show Opala a lot of respect, and she fits in perfectly with the tennis team.
“She’s a different kind of a coach because she is a bit more calm on the court,” Anderson said. “I think that’s a contrast to me because I am always the one that shows my emotions and gets really excited.”
Junior Natasha Tomishima said Opala was a big addition to the team and a great addition to the SIU family.
“She’s a really big help and definitely knows what she is talking about,” Tomishima said. “We were all talking about how we wish she could just be added to the roster.”
Opala will be alongside the tennis court when the women begin their spring season in February.