Rebeca Delgado left Mazatlan, Mexico, to play tennis at Sacramento State and to get an education at an American university.
What the Hornets' senior No. 1 singles and doubles player didn't expect was to become a polylinguist. Fluent in English when she arrived at Sac State in 2010, Delgado has picked up Swedish and German - or at least some colorful vocabulary - from some of her European teammates.
"I can cuss in several different languages now," Delgado said with a chuckle, a few days before her women's team lost 4-0 to No. 4-ranked USC in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at David Marks Tennis Stadium in Los Angeles. "One of the benefits of coming from Mexico is that I can scream in Spanish (and not take a penalty point)."
While the Big Sky Conference's MVP likes to joke about her choice language skills, the Hornets all know how to say one word - it's pronounced victory.
The Hornets (13-14) won their conference tournament for the 12th consecutive season and earned an automatic bid into the NCAAs.
The men's season also ended with a 4-0 loss to No. 4 host USC last Friday. The Hornets (17-13) also earned an automatic berth into the NCAAs by winning the Big Sky.
The Sac State men entered the NCAA Tournament having won 13 of their last 16 matches and winning the program's fifth consecutive Big Sky tournament. They've been to the NCAAs 10 of the past 15 seasons.
The program remains in great shape for the future.
The Hornets men started five underclassmen in singles, including sophomore Marek Marksoo, who had won 13 consecutive singles matches before losing at USC. His 16-4 record was ranked 113th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Marksoo is from Estonia.
Of the 23 men's and women's players at Sac State, 17 are foreign-born.
Men's head coach Slava Konikov is from Belarus, as is women's coach Dima Hrynashka.
Bill Campbell, director of tennis at Sac State, didn't set out to build the teams with foreign-born players, he said. But he learned quickly the only way to be competitive was to extend scholarships around the world.
"I (studied) the rankings for the NCAA, both men and women, and I'd say 65 percent of them were foreign players," Campbell said. "The 35 percent who were Americans were all going to Cal, Stanford, USC - the big tennis schools we had no chance of recruiting against. So we started going after these foreign kids and started getting some good ones."
Campbell said he and the coaches took a few recruiting trips overseas. In the summer, Konikov and Hrynashka returned to Belarus, their base for recruiting European players. At first, many of the first wave of foreigners were from Belarus because of the pipeline established by the two Hornets coaches. But the talent base from Belarus has all but dried up, Hrynashka said.
Luckily for the Hornets' recruiting budget, both teams started popping up in the NCAA rankings and frequent trips to the NCAA playoffs get noticed by the foreign-born players looking for a place to land and play in the United States.
"When we got nationally ranked, we started getting requests for information from 400 to 500 women," said Campbell, who confirmed that approximately the same number of men also started researching the Hornets. "When we find a player who we think can help us, we go after them, but it's nice to not have to travel to look at all those players. Not that my wife wouldn't like to go to Europe every summer."
Ranked in Mexico's top five, Delgado didn't send a résumé or tape, she just showed up while visiting Sacramento to see her friend and former Mexican playing partner, Clarisse Baca, who was already on the Hornets' roster.
Upon arrival, Delgado hit a few groundstrokes for Campbell, who offered her a scholarship on the spot.
"It's been an adventure," said Delgado, whose eligibility is over but has one more year at Sac State to complete her degree. "It's been a lot of fun."
Sean Kolar is one of the few Americans in the program, having played at Del Oro High School. The sophomore played No. 4 singles and on the No. 2 doubles team with Roy Brandys from Poland.
Being from the area and English being his language, Kolar has served as a team interpreter and tour guide. His mastery of the English language got him in trouble earlier this season. Suffering through an 0-11 start, Kolar threw his racket and uttered a few expletives after the loss and was assessed a penalty point. But since his match was already over, the penalty was given to Marksoo, the Hornets' No. 1 player.
Marksoo then gave Kolar an earful of Estonia's finest cuss words and told his American teammate to change his attitude. Kolar listened and changed his racket as well, and went on a 15-2 doubles run before meeting USC in the NCAA playoffs.
"Now, when I get mad on the court and want to avoid another penalty, or when I just want to tease my teammates and the six different languages spoken, I just say a bunch of gibberish," Kolar said. "They start cracking up and say I have my own language. They call it Sean-ish."
Mark Billingsley covers Sac State and UC Davis athletics for The Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.