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Dec. 1, 2011
By James Hampson, GoPSUsports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
4,344 miles, a 10-hour trans-Atlantic flight and a four-hour bus ride separate University Park, Pa. and Prague, Czech Republic. No average 18-year old would make a trip this long to attend college, but freshman Tomas Hanzlik (Prague, Czech Republic) is anything but average.
Hanzlik arrived at Penn State just in time to start the fall semester. With almost no time between the start of classes and the fall season, the freshman needed a crash course in being a Penn State student and living so far from home.
"In the beginning it was a little difficult, but it is getting better," said Hanzlik. "I have great teammates, great coaches and the Learning Center is helping me a lot. All the support is making it easier for me."
Assistant Coach Chris Cagle has been working extensively with the Czech Republic native since his arrival on campus. Cagle has noticed that Hanzlik's acclimation process to living and playing tennis in a foreign country has been a complete team effort.
"Our team is pretty tight knit," said Cagle. "We have good team camaraderie and chemistry. The guys have taken him under their wing and made him feel comfortable. They have made him feel like part of our team. As a result, I think it has been an easier transition for him. He has become comfortable with being a student athlete on and off the court."
Hanzlik came to Penn State as a highly-touted European prospect. While attending Ceskokipska Grammar School, he posted impressive numbers on the junior ITF circuit, including earning a 71-67 overall record and reaching as high as No. 83 in the junior world rankings. Hanzlik garnered the No. 8 junior-ranking in his native Czech Republic.
"He has been ranked in the top-85 in the world," said Cagle. "He already came here as a strong player. He expects to do well and win matches."
Shortly after making the biggest transition of his life to date, Hanzlik began his first fall season as a Nittany Lion. He wasted no time in impressing coaches and teammates. The freshman stand out won his first six collegiate matches en route to an 8-4 fall singles record.
Hanzlik broke into the limelight with a stellar effort in his first tournament, the Farnsworth/Princeton Invitational, reeling off four straight victories, including a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Buffalo's Damien David in his flight's championship bout. From there, he never looked back.
The freshman capped off an extraordinary start to his career with a first round victory over Iowa's Marc Bruche at the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Hanzlik changed up his style and pace of play over the course of a three-hour epic, which ended in a 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 triumph over the ITA No. 101-ranked singles player.
"It was a great match," said Hanzlik. "I played a good player from Iowa. We played about three hours and I ended up winning 7-6 in the third set."
Cagle agreed that Hanzlik punctuated his first fall season at Penn State impressively.
"He played really well," said Cagle. "It was his best match of the fall. It shows the things that he is capable of. He can definitely build on that match and take down even higher ranked opponents in the future."
Penn State could be in for a special ride for the next four years with Hanzlik leading a promising group of young talent, including Big Ten Indoor Championships contestants, sophomores Russell Bader (Austin, Texas) and Chris Young (Melbourne, Australia), along with junior Bryan Welnetz (Laredo, Texas).
"I have been impressed with his focus and determination," said Cagle. "It is a trait that a lot of higher level players have. I do not see there is any reason that he cannot be a top-50 player in the country. I am looking forward to watching him grow over the next four years."
The Nittany Lions will open the spring season Saturday, Jan. 22, 2012 when they travel to Raleigh, N.C. to take on the N.C. State Wolfpack at noon.
Penn State will return to the Penn State Indoor Tennis Center to open its home slate of spring matches Saturday, Jan. 28 in a double-header against St. Bonaventure at 10 a.m. and Lehigh at 3 p.m.