GVSU's van de Steenoven steps in at No. 1 singles
Australian transfer student adjusts to top spot in Laker lineup
GVL / Emily Frye Sophomore Alex van de Steenoven serves the ball during a match against Daeman College on Feb 14, 2016.
Imagine living “down under” in often-sweltering weather, then all of a sudden moving to the regularly frozen tundra of Allendale.
Grand Valley State sophomore Alex van de Steenoven has experienced just that and much more. The Lakers' No.1 singles player and Australia native has found a new home and family at GVSU.
“I came in last year and I was the only freshman guy on the team,” van de Steenoven said. “I think the guys on the team really helped me bond and gel with the team. I’ve become really good friends with their families. They make me feel really welcome since my mom and dad aren’t here.”
Van de Steenoven found GVSU like most foreign exchange students do — through an agency. Being the lone freshman on the team during his first year at GVSU, van de Steenoven faced many obstacles, especially on the tennis court. His athleticism, however, helped propel him to an impressive freshman campaign, as he held down the No. 3 flight with a 15-13 record in singles play.
His athletics background begins in Melbourne, Australia, where he played more than just tennis. During high school, van de Steenoven played basketball and volleyball.
His high school legacy, however, was crafted in tennis. He led his school to two undefeated seasons and four championships, compiling a career record of 44-0 in singles play.
His sophomore year at GVSU has been a coming out party. He was named the No. 1 singles player by GVSU head coach John Black at the beginning of the season. Since then, van de Steenoven has helped lead GVSU to a 3-1 start as it enters spring break competition.
“He has definitely matured,” Black said. “Comparing last year to this year he is much more focused in practice. I think he has a better idea of the level of college tennis and what it takes to excel on the court.”
Holding the top singles spot on any team brings its own challenges, pressure and expectations, as the No. 1 slot is, by talent, a de facto leader, for better or worse.
“In the beginning I was pretty honored to be chosen as the No. 1 guy,” van de Steenoven said. “But then we started playing and I found it very tough. I don’t know now how much I enjoy playing against the No. 1 player from other schools.”
The adjustment process is apparent, as van de Steenoven is 2-2 in his No. 1 singles matches this season. The pressure, however, has not gotten to him as much as it might have his freshman year. His growth from the high school level to the college level has shown, as he has grown stronger and wiser.
“He has become a much stronger player over the last year,” said senior Michael Kaye. “He has gotten faster and stronger, as well as mentally stronger. He focuses much better through matches and has a lot less loose points. I expect big things from him this season.”
Despite the difficulties of staying far from home, van de Steenoven has grown fond of the cold weather, though he and the rest of the team are heading for warmer temperatures in the near future.
The Lakers will compete in Florida during spring break against multiple programs. Van de Steenoven is looking forward to both the new competition as well as the beautiful weather, just like back home.