Vulcans Go Global

Czech native Vasek Slezak making waves in the PacWest tennis world

Sports Writer Trixie Croad

Photos Courtesy of Tina McDermott

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“As a player he always strives for excellence, perseveres through adversity, is always learning and competes like a champion.” -Tina McDermott, Men’s Tennis Head Coach

“I think he is the best tennis player I've seen come to this school since I have been here.” - Daniel Tada, Men’s Tennis Team Captain

Vulcan tennis has gone worldwide this season welcoming a host of new international players. Leading the pack is Vaclav ‘Vasek’ Slezak hailing from the Czech Republic, who has had an impressive impact on the men's’ side at no. 1 singles and doubles. “I think he is the best tennis player I've seen come to this school since I have been here,” said Daniel Tada, the Men’s Tennis team captain. “He is so fast and hits solid, so he is a really good addition to the team this year.”

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Slezak finishes off the Vulcans’ California road trip with a 13-9 record in singles and an ITA Division II national singles ranking of 29, fifth in the PacWest conference. In doubles, he started the season pairing with Greg Zukeran, but Head Coach Tina McDermott has switched to have Slezak and Coney as the top pair. Slezak was awarded PacWest “player of the week” in mid-March for his home wins against Hastings College, and for a narrow loss against Holy Names. Slezak managed to match points against the PacWest conference’s top ranked player, Hawaiʻi Pacific University’s Filip Dolezel, who is currently ranked seventh in the nation.

Slezak is joined on the men’s side by two other international transfers, Alex Fillat of Spain, playing mostly no. 2 singles, and Bruno Figlia of Brazil, playing mostly no. 5. With these three in addition to two returning Englishmen, Stefan Coney and Ryuta Ogawa, the Vulcans boast a mostly foreign lineup this year, with no. 2 Zukeran being the only American inside the top five in the lineup.

On the women’s side, international transfers at numbers one and two respectively, Daniela Sanz Caseli of Brazil and Sara Valero of Spain, make Vulcan tennis this year a truly international affair.

Right from the beginning of the season, Slezak’s colleagues note his exceptional performance. The men’s team as a whole is doing much better than previous seasons as well, as the Mar. 22 standings saw them gain a national team ranking for the first time in recent years, currently sitting at number 40 in Division II. They are ranked fourth in the PacWest conference compared to last year’s finish of sixth. Slezak, along with the other internationals, have helped build the Vulcans up to a new level. “The difference with having such a strong number one is that we can always count on him to pull out a win or at least come really close, so it brings a lot of confidence to our play,” Tada said.

Ahead of their California trip, however, Slezak said he still thinks the team has more to give. “We are playing good, and have played tough matches, but I feel there is something missing,” Slezak said. “There have been so many close matches that we could have won… but we are doing good so far, I mean we are ranked and this team was not ranked before, but it could be better... It could be way better.”

Slezak has high expectations for himself and his team. Slezak wants to make top ten in the nation in singles by the end of the season, and he wants the team to crack the top 30. “BYUH, we always have a close match with them and they are ahead of us, they are actually 29, so we can be top 30” Slezak said.

Coach McDermott is well aware of Slezak’s high expectations.“Vasek is such a perfectionist and his expectations are extremely high. As his coach, I make sure to keep him in the moment and reassure him he is doing such a fantastic job,” she said.

It is this attitude that McDermott believes has helped him improve as a player since he first arrived here in August. “As a player, he always strives for excellence, perseveres through adversity, is always learning, and competes like a champion,” McDermott said.

Slezak’s journey to UH Hilo began when he picked up a tennis racket for the first time at five years old in his hometown of Zdice in the Czech Republic, just outside of Prague. Slezak says his biggest supporters were his mother, Michaela, and his childhood coach, Jiri Rosol. Slezak says that even when he joined other clubs for better training, Rosol was always his coach and supporter, and contributed a great deal to how he developed as a player. Just as he does today, Slezak had high expectations of himself growing up. “When I was younger I wanted to go pro, Slezak said. “I thought this was the only thing I was going to do during my life, but then when I was 18 I got diabetes, and I had to chose between college and going pro, so I picked college.” Slezak opted for college in the United States so that he could continue his tennis competitively. “In Czech, you can’t do college and sport at the same time, so I chose to go to the USA,” Slezak said.

Slezak spent his first two years at Division I Troy University in Southern Alabama, but didn’t feel it was the right fit and opted to transfer after just one year. “I didn’t like my team, there were good people at the school but I didn’t like the personalities of my teammates,” Slezak said. “Also the coach wasn’t good, he promised us so many things and he didn’t keep his word and that’s why I had to leave.” Although the level of tennis at UH Hilo isn’t quite the same as in Alabama, Slezak says he enjoys life here a lot more and is still getting really competitive matches. “The level of the tennis is a little bit lower but I knew that because I was coming to Division II from Division I,” Slezak said. “The guys are great, it’s kind of like a family over here, that’s what was missing over there.”

Slezak still has two more seasons to complete after this year, and is looking forward to spending them in Hilo. Outside of tennis, he is a business and marketing major with a GPA of 3.7, and has become an avid surfer in his spare time. When he graduates, he plans to move back to the Czech Republic where his girlfriend and family still live, and he hopes to start his own business someday. Until then, there is still plenty more of Slezak to be seen in Vulcan uniform; he welcomes the chance to continue playing with Men’s Tennis for the foreseeable future.