Though some of the players on the North Carolina men’s tennis team come from across the Atlantic Ocean, they’ve come to call Chapel Hill their second home.
Danish sophomore Esben Hess-Olesen, Norwegian sophomore Oystein Steiro, and German junior Maik Ulrich have all contributed to the Tar Heels’ success this year on the courts, including a pair of shutouts against UT-Chattanooga and North Carolina Central on Sunday.
They’ve also contributed to the team’s chemistry.
“I don’t even look at them as international players. I just look at them as great kids,” coach Sam Paul said. “They’re part of our family. They work hard. That’s it.”
While Hess-Olesen was out with an injury for the day, Steiro and Ulrich both took the court for the double-header.
The two both recorded wins in their respective doubles matches, as well as singles victories against UT-Chattanooga and shutouts against NC Central opponents.
Steiro, ranked No. 1 in Norway in his age group for several years, won Norwegian championships in 2008, among 16-year-olds, and in 2009, among 18-year-olds. Hess-Olesen, too, rose to a national No. 1 ranking for singles and doubles while growing up in Denmark.
Hess-Olesen, who is now UNC’s highest-ranked player, talked about how his success in Denmark brought him to Chapel Hill.
“First, I was just kind of emailing a lot of schools. I didn’t know much about college tennis actually,” he said. “But then the (UNC) coaches replied, and we got in contact. Eventually, they offered me an official visit. I took it and pretty much fell in love with this place.”
Some other schools offered him scholarships too, but Hess-Olesen said there was no comparison.
“Once I visited here, I was 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do,” he said.
He said the transition to American life was difficult at first, but the way that Chapel Hill reminds him of home has helped him tremendously.
“I think what I specifically like about this place is that it reminds me of home because the atmosphere here is really laid back,” he said. “It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s a perfect environment to be around for me.”
Hess-Olesen said he loves the team dynamic, and his teammates said they love having him and Ulrich and Steiro around.
“They’re fun to be around,” team co-captain William Parker said. “It’s just a different culture. It’s a little different, but it’s fun.”
Socially, the transition was made smoother due to Steiro’s and Hess-Olesen’s development of English as a second language during childhood.
“When I got here, they spoke perfectly fine English,” freshman Brett Clark said. “They understand all of the English jokes and everything.”
But Hess-Olesen said he does still miss his real home.
“Denmark is my home. And I do miss it,” he said. “But this is what I wanted to do, and my parents have supported me all the way.
“I like the balance now. When I’m home, I’m always looking forward to coming back. So that just shows me that I’m doing the right thing.”
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