Seven Nations, One Team on UNR’s Hardcourts
Cayley Dishion and Montana Lloyd report on why the Wolf Pack women’s tennis team is made up of only international student-athletes and why this is important to Nevada’s athletics.
A Coach From France
French native Guillaume Tonelli is head coach of the Nevada women’s tennis team and his international background led to coaching a team of international student-athletes. Tonelli came to America in 2003 when he moved to Tyler, Texas where he played tennis for Tyler Junior College and went on to win a national championship at the National Junior College Athletic Association level.
Tonelli made the move to Reno, Nevada in 2005 to pursue his bachelor’s degree in international business while being a lead player on the men’s tennis team for two years.
“Coming from a different country I had a different perspective on things already,” Tonelli said. “It’s funny how you make your own path.”
After completing his undergraduate at Nevada, with his international work visa extending an extra year, he worked under the women’s tennis head coach, which is where his coaching career started to fall into place.
“It was a lucky draw,” Tonelli said. “The team really liked me and he ended up taking the position as the men’s tennis head coach. If I don’t take the job now, I will never get it back. 10 years later I love it.”
Eight players, Six countries
The current roster for women’s tennis at Nevada includes players with hometowns five thousand miles away. Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, England, Hungary, and South Australia are countries Nevada women’s tennis players call home.
Cristina Moll Alles, a junior from Menorca, Spain, is learning how to settle into her new home in the Biggest Little City. Alles spent the last two years at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
“What made me choose Nevada was the good feeling I had with my coach and the team,” Alles said. “The tennis team at Nevada is Division 1 and is in one of the best conferences.”
As part of the Mountain West Conference, Nevada regularly competes against San Diego State and Boise State, as well as in-state rival UNLV.
Teammate Selina Turulja is a junior from Adelaide, South Australia. Turulja has spent all three years of her collegiate career playing for Nevada.
“I did a visit before signing with Nevada and found both the team and coach extremely nice and welcoming,” Turulja said. “Coming from a different country, I wanted to make sure I had a feeling of having a home away from home and I felt that when I came to school here. The opportunities that come from studying and playing tennis were too good to give up.”
Mixing academics with athletics
Being able to play a sport while getting a visa for the United States and scholarship is very attractive to international students.
“(Back home,) we play club sports growing up but you don’t get to play and go to school at the same time so it’s the perfect mix, the perfect recipe for everyone to be happy and to get a nice scholarship out of it too,” Tonelli said.
When asked about having a team full of international students and getting used to being away from home, Turulja says it wasn’t hard to adjust to at all. Having a team made up of many different cultures is helpful in building a sense of community within their team.
“Australia is a pretty multicultural country so I am used to diversity and seeing different cultures,” Turulja said. “Honestly, for me, it was nothing new and not hard to adjust to at all.”
“From my point of view, being part of a team made up of all international students is so cool,” Alles said. “It wasn’t hard to adjust to all the different accents and cultures. It was the opposite. I think it was so interesting knowing each other and knowing other cultures.”
Alles has been consistently in the number three spot in singles play and posted a winning record in doubles play, including going 2–0 with Turulja last season.
“The good thing about having my teammates from other countries is that we always help each other and understand each other in one way or another,” Alles said. “We don’t have our families here so the team is like our family.”
“It helps knowing you’re not the only one who is away from home and in a different country,” Turulja added.
How does Reno compare?
In their free time off the court, Tonelli and players have taken a liking to Reno’s culture, activities, and nightlife.
“I love Reno,” Truluja said. “It has become my home away from home and I am so grateful for that. The people I have met I wouldn’t trade for anything. My favorite part outside of campus is the mountains and the views that Reno has.”
“My favorite part outside campus is the city at night,” Alles said. “There are good restaurants and places to go.”
Coach Tonelli enjoys taking his family to Lake Tahoe, during both the winter and summer seasons. The outdoor aspect of Reno is what drew him to this city and ultimately made him stay.
“My wife loves the lake, I love the lake, and we wouldn’t be here without the lake,” Tonelli said. “We love the outdoors and that’s a big one for us. I love the weather and even when it’s cold it’s not that cold and the sun is still out. It’s still affordable so you can save money and still travel.”
Everyone misses aspects of their hometown and international student-athletes are no different.
“I feel food at home is healthier and better quality,” Alles said. “I am from a small island situated in the Mediterranean Sea. What I miss from home that Reno doesn’t have is nature and the sea.”
“The biggest difference I would say is the weather,” Turulja said. “I’m not used to such cold winters and the snow but I have learnt to love it! I also miss my family and friends the most.”
2020, also known as “The COVID Year,” was a challenging time for student-athletes. It was especially hard for international students who were either trying to go home or trying to come back to attend school.
“I was supposed to come (to UNR) last year, in August, but I wasn’t allowed to enter the country, so I had to wait until January of this year,” Alles said. “It was really hard and tough having to do classes from 2 a.m. through 6 a.m. because of the 9 hour time difference.”
From a coach’s perspective, Tonelli took it one day at a time, which included a lot of Zoom meetings.
“The players understood a lot of communication,” Tonelli said. “Being able to understand where we were and what we needed to do, but now we’re back on track. It’s been weird for everyone but you learn to take every individual as you can and just go with it.”
Another factor that affected the Pack this season from beginning practice right away was the ongoing Caldor fire south of Lake Tahoe. The heavy smoke prevented them from holding practices outside.
“The smoke was so bad that we had to hold practices inside some days,” Turulja said. “Instead of playing tennis, we did a lot of conditioning.”
The 2021–22 season
When asked what Tonelli looks forward to most this season, he answered “the season itself.”
The women start competition on September 23, their first set of matches at the Cal Berkeley Invite.
Set to have a full schedule, the Wolf Pack have three matches in the fall and a heavy slate in the spring, lasting from January through April.
The Mountain West Championship is set to be from April 28-May 1 2022, location to be determined.
“I am looking forward to getting out there with my team and enjoying my senior year,” Turulja said. “I want to make the most of the last year.”
As for Alles, she has her eyes set on winning. “I am looking forward to winning Regionals,” Alles said.
“We try to give an experience,” Tonelli said. “In 20 years you’re not going to remember if you beat UC Davis on September 20th but you’ll remember the trip. If you can look back and say you got the most out of it, that is what is important to us,” he said.