Imagine being a 16-year-old in high school and having to learn a new culture on the fly.
Luca Mistereck and Tim Pullmann are doing just that for Mead girls tennis and Ferris boys tennis, respectively.
The two are German foreign exchange students who are executing on the tennis courts and in the classrooms, and excelling at acclimating to a different city with new people. But the biggest difference between tennis in Germany at this age and tennis in the United States is with the teams themselves – and sometimes the courts.
High school tennis is nonexistent in Germany, so being a part of a team with kids you go to school with sets up a unique relationship.
“The whole team spirit thing is way bigger here, so that is really cool, and we don’t have that in Germany, and it is kind of sad and I really like it here,” Pullmann said. “It is really cool to go with your team on the bus and come back on the bus, and I really like it.”
“The team is different. It is more of a team feeling here,” Mistereck said. “(In Germany) we don’t really have school sports. You go to private clubs.”
Both athletes speak solid English, even if they don’t know all of the cultural norms of the U.S. This has helped them settle in nicely with their schools, teams and host families.
“Her English is very good, so there isn’t a lot of miscommunication there, just stuff she isn’t familiar with, like how we do things at Mead, or local tournaments around here,” Mead head coach Lynn Coleman said. “She is a great kid and a lot of fun to have on the team.”
Mistereck has negotiated the language barrier, but she is still figuring out the hard courts on which she plays.
“I have always played a clay court at home and now I am playing hard court, which is a total different sport to me,” she said.
It takes a special type of person to leave their families and homes for an opportunity in the U.S., but both athletes have taken the move in stride.
“The beginning was kind of crazy because you live with people you have never met before, with strangers,” Pullmann said. “And it is kind of awkward in the beginning.”
Mistereck has welcomed the opportunity to make new friends and to see the world outside of Germany.
“I like traveling a lot and seeing new things,” she said. “It is a lot of fun. It’s hard to describe it.”
This is the first time either coach has had a foreign exchange student on the varsity roster. The weird scheduling this season, due to the weather, hasn’t allowed either coach to spend as much time with the new players as they would have hoped.
“I am still getting to know Luca,” Coleman said. “I have heard about her all school year long. People and teachers were saying to check out Luca, because she’s really good. I was excited to meet her, and finally one of the girls on the team brought her to me to get introduced. She is just really bubbly, and always laughing and always in a good mood.”
Both players have received rave reviews for their courteous and fun demeanor.
“(Pullmann) seems to fit in really well. He’s really personable, really easy to speak and to talk to,” Ferris first-year head coach Jim Utzinger said. “He’s an excellent tennis player.
“He is very complimentary of other players. He’s really well-behaved and a real pleasure to have on the team, and we’re blessed to watch. He’s really good.”
“(Misterick is a) very positive person and she is just funny,” Coleman said. “She is just a hoot to be around.”
Mistereck’s dad was a professional tennis player in Germany for a few years before he turned his attention to coaching – and his daughter, who said he made her play tennis.
But her passion for tennis is evident in her almost overwhelming positivity on the court.
Pullmann’s brother was a tennis player, but it was his friends who drew him toward the sport.
Both want to continue their ascension in the tennis world and to build relationships with the players on their team.
“Most of the people I didn’t know before the season, and we become friends because of tennis,” Pullmann said. “It helps a lot to make new friends, new people, and that’s what I am here for.”
Pullmann is also actively pursuing possible scholarship opportunities so he can return to the U.S. for college.
Mistereck is on her way up. She’s already so solid on the court that Coleman believes she has the talent to be one of the league’s top players.
“As a tennis player, she is really accomplished. She knows what she is doing on the court,” said Coleman.