With a starting lineup of six foreign students, the LSU men’s tennis team has put a greater emphasis on international recruiting in recent years. This lineup includes James Cluskey and Mark Bowtell of Ireland, Michael Venus of New Zealand, Julien Gauthier of Canada, Neal Skupski of England, and Sebastian Carlsson of Sweden. “We certainly would be interested in any Louisiana players that are ranked very high in the nation,” said Jeff Brown, LSU men’s tennis head coach. “We produce some, but not nearly enough to field a strong, nationally competitive team.”
For this reason, Brown says the team must look elsewhere for talent. However, it is not financially feasible to constantly travel overseas to recruit the majority of these players. Therefore, coaches will travel to international junior tournaments that take place in the United States.
For example, Brown recruited Cluskey after meeting him at an international junior tennis tournament in Florida called the Orange Bowl. “We look into their results and where they’re ranked in the world rankings, and if there’s a mutual interest, we’ll contact them back and arrange for a visit or arrange to see them play somewhere,” said Brown.
Coaches also rely on current and former players networking in foreign countries. Cluskey successfully helped recruit his countryman Bowtell to LSU by writing him a letter, while Skupski is the younger brother of Ken Skupski who is fourth on LSU’s all time singles wins list. The elder Skupski played at LSU from 2003-2007. “I came to LSU because brother came here and for the facilities,” said the younger Skupski. “I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps.”
However some of LSU’s international recruits are from non-English-speaking nations. These students must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in order to receive admittance to LSU. “We have one of the highest TOEFL [required scores] in the conference, and that’s changed the countries that we can recruit from,” said Brown. International Admissions Assistant Director Marina Pereira said that this is because some SEC schools are not our academic peers. “What you consider peer schools academically are not considered peer schools athletically,” said Pereira.