Oklahoma State’s women’s tennis program has reached new heights over the past decade, becoming one of the premier brands in college tennis.
Cowgirls Head Coach Chris Young led the team to nine consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, including four trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 in the past six years, two regular-season Big 12 titles and a second-place national finish in the 2016 season.
OSU has 16 All-Americans in program history, including eight consecutive international athletes who have earned All-America honors.
While OSU’s recent history has been hugely successful with international student-athletes, Young focuses on those who fit the program’s established culture rather than where they call home.
“I always try to have the best kids,” Young said. “It’s important to get to know international kids as young as possible and follow their careers. For me, it’s always about the right place in the program, no matter where they come from.”
While coaches go overseas to recruit, current and former players can often be the best recruiters.
“They’ll tell you, ‘Hey, I’ve got a friend at home who saw my success and is interested,’ or a coach will tell me to watch a kid,” Young said. For example, Cowgirl freshman Mhai Sawangkaew is from the city of Singburi, Thailand. Bunyawi Thamchaiwat, former Cowgirl Big 12 Player of the Year and ITA All-American, hails from Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. As decisions on Sawangkaew’s future loom, Thamchaiwat spoke to him about OSU’s tennis tradition and what life would be like from one Thai to another.
“I talked a lot with Bunyawi (Thamchaiwat) about coming here,” Sawangkaew said. “She is also from Thailand and said how good everything is and that I should come to school here.”
Sawangkaew has been recruited by other top tennis programs in the country. Along with seeing Bunyawi’s success and growth during her time at OSU, Sawangkaew also credits Young and the rise of the program for bringing her to Stillwater.
“I chose here because I saw so many good players in the team and Chris (Young) was so nice and nice to me. Chris sent me messages to come to school here. He talked about the quality of the players and the facilities and how coming here would help my professional goals. Chris’ confidence in me gives me confidence in my tennis. Also the fact that a Thai tennis player is successful here the gets and that made me choose to come here.
Additionally, the OSU coaching staff has developed relationships with international federations and coaches who can guide them in their recruiting efforts.
“The best time to go is when you have someone who can show you around or take you to a tournament,” Young said. “Sometimes I’ll go a little cold at a tournament where there are kids I’m watching and I’ll go watch them, but a lot of times it’s really helpful to have someone you care about. trust and who is a partner with you in the process.”
OSU assistant coach Jaime Sanchez-Cañamares hails from Albacete, Spain and is in his third season as the program’s assistant coach.
Sanchez has amassed an impressive resume as a player while competing at Fresno Pacific, Oklahoma Christian and Embry-Riddle, compiling a 70-14 singles record and a 70-24 doubles mark as a four-time NAIA All -American.
The Cowgirls have the perfect combination in their coaching staff with the international experience of Sanchez-Canamares paired with Oklahoma native Young.
Sanchez’s story is similar to that of many international athletes.
“I feel like I know what the kids think and what the parents fear and I can relate to them,” Sanchez-Cañamares said. “I can accompany them throughout the process. When I was a player in Spain, I was contacted by coaches and I had no interest in coming to play at university. All European players have this mentality that Coming to college is a step back from turning professional so you don’t want to do that. You don’t know what you might get here or what kind of help you will get.
After playing professional tennis and deciding to go to college in the United States at the end of the process, Sanchez-Cañamares was ineligible to play at the NCAA level. However, he decided to compete at the highest levels of NAIA tennis. When asked why he finally said yes, Sanchez-Cañamares’ answer was simple.
“I just wanted to give it a try and loved it.”
Oona Orpana, from Finland, decided to bring her talents to Stillwater thanks to the persistence in recruiting assistant coach Jaime Sanchez-Canamares.
“I always said college was not for me,” Orpana said. “Jaime is the only person who has changed his mind. I never planned on going to college in America, but it’s a great opportunity and I know I’ll regret it in the future if I don’t. didn’t come here.”
The tennis expertise and international heritage of Sanchez-Canamares only concerns student-athletes.
“I think Jaime can relate to what it’s like to come to the States, study a different language and adjust to life here because he did it himself,” said Orpana. “It’s good to have an American coach and a European coach because they can give different perspectives on the game and life.”
Sanchez-Canamares helped Oona through the thought process, which helped Orpana realize the importance of the opportunity to play college tennis.
“Most of these kids, their story is so similar to mine, so I know how to reach out to them and understand their situation,” Sanchez-Canamares said. “Other coaches get told no and they don’t know why and keep bringing up material stuff like, ‘We have this and that.’ When you’re across the ocean, you don’t really care what people have, you want to know how coming here will benefit you and why.”
What is the reason why?
“The main thing I sell about Oklahoma State and the Cowgirls Tennis is the support you will receive on and off the court no matter what,” Sanchez-Canamares said. “Secondly, we focus on developing you as a player and as a person. Thirdly, using those two things, it’s important for them to get where they want to go. During the process, when I talk to a rookie, I never tell them what we have. It’s what many schools have already told them, so if you say the same thing, you might lose their attention. I focus on what we do and how we do it. things here at Oklahoma State. We have games where a lot of people come to watch which shows the support of Cowgirl Tennis. You have amazing people and coaches such as Chris or our strength coach Nick behind you every day It’s not just about coming here to win and win for the team, but it’s about winning in a way where you grow and develop; that’s the main thing.”
Former Veteran All-American and Cowgirl Lisa Marie Rioux returned this season to Oklahoma State after taking time off last season. While away from OSU, Rioux realized how special Oklahoma State was.
“I realized how much I loved everything at OSU and had everything I needed,” Rioux said. “I realized it wasn’t common and what I had was special. I always regretted the way I ended the season. I really wanted to have a senior day and finish a season. If I had a senior day, I wanted it to be at OSU. I wanted to help the team and I was so excited to come back.”
Rioux is the longest-serving Cowgirl and believes that part of the success of OSU’s international student-athletes comes from all the different programs on and off the field that are in place to help student-athletes maximize their potential.
“Academically, OSU is helpful for international students because we have all the resources like tutors and the writing center and everyone is very helpful,” Rioux said. “The team has a lot of international players. We think it’s okay to be different and no one is judging or anything and I really like that.”
In addition to academics, Rioux credits the success to the staff and facilities for setting up Cowgirl tennis.
“The Greenwood Tennis Center is one of the best places to play in the country,” Rioux said. “The coaches too. Of course, Chris (Young) and Jaime (Sanchez-Cañamares), but also Nick (Hoheisel). He’s one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country and he really helped me physically. I lost it after I left OSU and I knew I had to rebuild it and I really needed it. The serious people here are good, everyone always wants to be the best and work hard and it’s more special than any other place.
The current state of Cowgirl Tennis has a culture that has earned it distinction as one of the top destinations for international and American tennis players.