By Cristiana Votta
Senior Abi Cottam, forward on the women’s soccer team has traveled nearly 3,500 miles from Leominster England to Lawrenceville, NJ in order to become an asset to her team. She has broken multiple school records and compiled prestigious awards such as the New Jersey Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Woman of the Year Award.
The decision to pursue athletics internationally is a difficult one to make for some, but Cottam had her eye on coming to the States.
“I knew I wanted to come to America, and I had an agent who helped me look for schools,” Cottam said. “He was friends with Drayson Hounsome [women’s soccer head coach] and so he called me and explained everything about Rider. It sounded like a good university and the coach sounded nice so I decided to come here.”
International students have the potential to add a different dynamic to American college athletics.
“I think our international kids have really helped us raise the level of our game,” Field Hockey Head Coach Lori Hussong said. “Their play is just outstanding, and when we put these kids on our field, our U.S. kids get the chance to see some of the top players in the world while competing and learning from them.”
The process for coaches at Rider to recruit athletes from other countries varies, but usually includes email, Skype, phone, video and European agencies that help these athletes gain exposure.
For Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan, the process is similar to recruiting American athletes.
“The recruiting process can start like any other — getting information or someone giving us information about a certain player,” Milligan said. “There are many foreign players already in the States as well as going to high school here for a few years. We have some contacts we can use who specialize in foreign players and helping them reach their goals.”
Assistant Field Hockey Coach Dan Hussong wants international recruits to feel at home when coming to play at Rider.
“We Skype with them — we don’t actually fly over and watch them play,” Hussong said. “We want kids to feel comfortable with what we present and that is the school. We want people who are looking for that homebody type atmosphere on the team. We call it a family atmosphere and then we like to live that.”
While the initial process begins with the coaches, each athlete comes to the United States for something different. Some are pursuing lifelong goals and others are just in it for the experience and opportunity.
Junior Tommy Pereira of the men’s basketball team had other ideas in mind when deciding to leave Nottingham, England, and the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain.
“I never really had any intentions to come over to America to play basketball,” Pereira said. “I just wanted to go professional. When I heard that some colleges were interested in me, I gave it some thought and decided it would be a great move for me.”
As with any big decision these two athletes faced many positive and negative experiences in committing to Rider.
“I think placement was a perk,” Cottam said. “Rider is near New York and Philadelphia. I also liked that it was quite a small school and that the soccer program was undergoing changes with a lot of freshmen coming in.”
Both Cottam and Pereira felt adjustments weren’t easy.
“Being an only child, it’s hard to be away from my family for long periods of time and even harder on them,” Pereira said. “They know that me being over here will benefit me in the future so they support my decisions 100%.”
Cottam felt as though homesickness was one of the only negative aspects of being in the United States.
“Traveling back and forth was difficult and I got homesick a lot, especially the first year,” Cottam said.
The coaches at Rider consider it extremely important to find international athletes who are not only good on the playing field, but in the classroom as well.
“We also like them to be strong academically because you know there is going to be a challenge for them, especially if English is their second language,” Hussong said.
Milligan feels that the adjustment period in the classroom and on the court is an important factor for these athletes.
“We have to match their academic standards with ours and obviously at times there may be a language barrier too,” Milligan said. “We have to make sure they can handle being in the States. They are a long way from home so we become their family and need to help them in their adjustments.”
Traveling these distances can be a startling thought to some, but it’s a decision that could lead to a lifetime of success.
“At first you think it’s too far, but if you don’t try it and see what it’s like, you’ll never know,” Pereira said. “Many people like to be close to home because that’s all they know, but you make friends easily, who will last not just four years, but a lifetime.”
The process of change is a long procedure conducted with the help of both the coaches and players.
“I think the experience they get is a terrific one,” Hussong said. “We do a great thing for them, and they provide a great thing for us. They’re good kids, good teammates, and I think they walk away with a great experience.”