Sports

Sports

International Students Played Pivotal Roles in Competitive Athletics at JWU
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OK … Let’s check the list. There were men’s soccer players from Argentina, Great Britain, Spain, Australia, and Germany. Men’s basketball had participants from Brazil, Senegal, and Slovenia, among others. There were sailors from Sweden and Venezuela, volleyball players from Japan, softball and baseball players from the Netherlands Antilles, women’s tennis standouts from Turkey, Belgium, and Guatemala, and men’s tennis was represented by a total of 10 nations, Costa Rica, Sweden, Denmark, China, Israel, and India among them. The best golfer may have been from Colombia, the top hockey player from Canada.

What is this? A roster of competitors from the Beijing Olympics?  Not at all. It is a partial list of countries represented by Johnson & Wales University’s international student population through the first 13 years of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competition. Since the inception of NCAA athletics on the Providence Campus in 1995, international students have been standouts as an integral part of competition. Many have received post-season honors and were members of championship teams. All have been a large part of the JWU story of athletic success.

More than 70 international student-athletes have participated in 15 of the 16 varsity sports in Providence. Participation began with the very first teams. The impact, especially in those sports with worldwide appeal, was immediate. Amit Daswani ’97, who was born in India and grew up in Las Palmas, Spain, was among the first two-sport athletes, and a standout in both soccer and tennis. Keino Spring ’98 came to JWU from St. Vincent in the West Indies, and, after receiving all-conference accolades in 1996 and 1997, remains one of the all-time best defenders in JWU soccer history. St. Maarten contributed three players to the first softball teams. Marcella Wigley ’96, Shailiah Lake ’98, and power-hitting Klaudia Vingatama ’98 helped the program take its first successful steps. In 1997, Masako Onuki ’98 of Japan was Rookie of the Year for the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) women’s volleyball.

The hockey exploits of Mark Deveaux ’99 are legend in Providence. The native of New Brunswick, Canada, is generally considered the best hockey player the institution has ever seen. Though most of Deveaux’s career spanned the final club years for the sport, he was a veritable scoring machine. In 1995–96, he scored 45 goals and 75 points. His record 99 points — 56 goals and 43 assists — led the nation in scoring in 1996–97, JWU’s final year as a club team. He climaxed his prolific career in 1998–99 as the NCAA Division III national scoring leader. But Deveaux was also an outstanding outfielder on the JWU baseball team for three seasons. He was twice named All-GNAC First Team; in 1997 and again in 1998.

NET GAINS

Then, there is tennis. Allan Freedman, Ed.D. has coached a roster that could have easily been mistaken for a list of United Nations representatives. In 1999, the best tennis team that JWU has ever had started an Egyptian, the undefeated Ahmed Hassan ’02; a Swede, Jon-Daniel Sjogren ’99; a Dane, Peter Kornerup ’99; an Israeli, Shachar Gat ’00; and a Turk, Alp Yoruk. Other starters on that team were American. Still, Freedman had the ability to go all-international with the insertion of the highly skilled Ron Raviv ’99, another Israeli; Ajay John ’00 of New Delhi, India, or Johnny Chan ’00 of Beijing, into the lineup. “They were,” Freedman recounts, “by far, the best team I’ve ever seen.”

One of the greatest rebounders in the history of the entire GNAC men’s basketball league came from Senegal — JWU’s Mamadou Gueye ’06, a two-time first-team all-league selection. Along with Spring, the GNAC honored nearly a dozen international student-athletes with post-season awards in soccer: Patrik Soderberg ’06 and Chris Thunman ’04 of Sweden, Gokan Oztel ’01 of Turkey, Brian Nathan ’95 of Australia, and Donnie Juan ’95 of Germany, a member of the very first GNAC championship team in the fall of 1995.  

HERE AND NOW

While Juan, Spring, Deveaux and other pioneers helped to build Wildcat athletics, the international flavor of varsity sports rosters continues. Senior Olivia Molhant was born in Belgium, and spent parts of her life in the Netherlands, South Korea, the Philippines, and Morocco before coming to JWU. A senior captain on the women’s tennis team, Molhant says tennis “helped make coming here comfortable. I wanted to play tennis in college, and getting to know my teammates made it easier for me,” the hotel management major says off court.

Contributions reached farther than Providence. In North Miami, senior Dave Tobon, a native of Medellin, Colombia, was a two-time regional Player of the Year. He was named a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American and an NAIA Academic All-American in 2007 and 2008. His three-stroke victory against the field led the Wildcat golf team to the NAIA Region 14 title. Tobon was also twice named the North Miami Campus’ Athlete of the Year.

Some international students were instrumental in the development of entire athletic entities. Take the sailing program in Providence. Two females, Ebba Kalbfelt ’00 and Malin Lindgren ’00 of Sweden, started the sailing club in 1999. After their graduation, another pair of Swedish sailing enthusiasts, Sebastian Wessman ’01 and Anders Hallgren ’02, took the program to the doorstep of varsity status in 2002.

Thanks to the Swedish quartet, the current group of sailors, like Andres Benzecri, of Venezuela, are sailing varsity races for the 2008 Wildcats. “I came from Caracas after sailing just about my entire life with my family,” recounts Benzecri, “It was a great way to meet new friends quickly, and it made things easier for me. We bonded quickly, and it helped a little in the classroom, too.”

Some international students became coaches. Gregg Miller ’97, who played on JWU club teams in the early 1990’s, grew up in Birmingham, England. When the university became a member of the GNAC in 1995, he coached the team to its first championship, and guided the Wildcats to five championships in his 13 years. Alphons Gumbs ’96 was a shortstop for the 1996 JWU baseball team. A native of the Netherlands Antilles, Gumbs was a slick fielder, whose knack for the game eventually took him into the coaching ranks both at Johnson & Wales upon graduation, and currently, back home in St. Maarten.

Hassan, like Miller, won a men’s tennis championship as a player in 1999 and as a coach, leading the Wildcats to the 2001 GNAC title. Miller’s take is much like Molhant’s, and the majority of international students who become Wildcat athletes. “I adjusted more quickly, and adjusted better because of the team experience,” Miller says, “I had originally thought about getting a two-year degree, but playing soccer was a major factor that led me to stay.” He stayed on for more than a decade to coach.

As a coach, Miller says he was surprised to see his players in the same light. “The game’s a little more physical and the terminology may be a little different for the international students, but soccer is soccer, and teammates become fast friends. There weren’t very many who didn’t stay.

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