SIU expands borders for student-athletes

By Tyler Davis

When sophomore Polina Dozortseva decided to travel halfway across the globe from Moscow to attend a school she had never seen, she said she felt a bit nervous and alone.

She was not the only Saluki making an international transition. Dozortseva is just one of 55 student-athletes to leave their home country for SIU, according to Matt Vincent, assistant athletic director for compliance. With 16 different varsity teams, that is an average of three foreign students per team, one of the highest percentages of any Missouri Valley Conference school.

Compare that to MVC rival Western Illinois University, which only has eight international student-athletes on its 18 teams.


Athletic Director Mario Moccia said SIU’s resources and willingness to work with foreign students make the school appealing to those looking to study abroad and compete athletically.

“SIU has always been known for our international student department on campus,” Moccia said. “Also we have allowed our coaches to go out and find the best student-athletes whether they are local students or international.”

SIU’s recruiting effort is especially apparent in tennis.

Tennis, which is usually dominated at the professional level by non-American players, has a strong international presence at the collegiate level.

In the MVC, foreign players filled last year’s All-Conference men’s team with all members coming from European countries, including SIU junior Jonny Rigby. On the women’s side, five of the six members of the All-Conference singles team were international students.

Audra Anderson, the 10th year tennis coach for the women, said the reason for the influx of foreign players could be attributed to more interest in tennis in other countries, as well as the opportunity American universities provide with athletic scholarships.

“A lot of times soccer is going to be the No. 1, most popular sport in other countries and tennis is going to be No. 2 or No. 3,” Anderson said. “In America it’s going to be more like the No. 6 most popular.”


“Also, we have a unique situation where our universities have athletics,” she said. “There might be a few countries that do that, but in general, the universities overseas do not give the opportunity for someone to play athletics and to be a student at the same time.”

Dozortseva said education was a big reason for her leaving her home country for a 5,300 mile journey to Carbondale.

“I always wanted to go to college and continue my education but I wanted to play tennis too,” she said. “I was recruited by other schools in America but I liked SIU’s education and Coach Anderson really wanted me to come here.”

Dozortseva joined one of the most diverse teams on campus. The team features just two American players, sophomores Meagan Monaghan, of Denver, and Lauren Hoekstra of Effingham.

Players for the women’s tennis team come from Ukraine, Russia, Spain, Brazil and England.

Anderson said she puts a lot of effort into recruiting American players and tries to maintain a balance on the team. She said recruiting a majority of her players does not usually involved face-to-face meetings, as opposed to other sports.

“When I recruit, I don’t really go to other nations,” Anderson said. “I do most of my recruiting through YouTube, emails and working with recruiting companies.”

Moccia said he is asked to meet with potential student-athletes when they visit campus, but that happens more often in sports like football, volleyball or basketball.

“I will talk to any recruit that the coaches want me to,” he said. “I talk to all the football recruits because we do that in a big group. Due to the distance of our international students, they rarely come over for a visit but with Skype and other technology there’s a lot of ways to communicate.”

He said no matter how they get here, most student-athletes have the shared love of sports and desire for a quality education. Anderson said this meshes well with SIU’s goal to get athletes who can perform well on the court and in the classroom.

She said the high number of international students is a case of independent interests reaching a common goal. Student-athletes get to continue playing while getting an education and the coaches get hardworking student-athletes eager to play Division I athletics.

“We are just looking for students who are going to fit into the program and work hard,” Anderson said. “We don’t care where they’re from the local area, other states, other countries; we want to get quality students-athletes.”