Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It’s a long way from Velenje, Slovenia, to Manhattan, Kansas. It’s a journey that Antea Huljev (an-TAY-uh) (HOOL-yev), sophomore on the women’s tennis team at K-State, hadn’t planned on making. Sometimes it seems that things just work out.
For two short months there might have been a chance that Huljev would have turned out to be something other than a tennis player. At age nine she started out playing handball, following in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother, Iva Spoljar, was a member of the 1980 Yugoslavian Olympic handball team and was ranked as the number two player in the world. As it turned out, however, handball wasn’t Antea’s calling.
“I didn’t like it (handball) a lot,” she said. “I was the smallest in the group, so I didn’t want to continue because I didn’t like it because I didn’t get to play a lot. One day, two people came to our school and asked if anyone wanted to play tennis. So, for one year, I played tennis for fun. Then I went to club and I started to take it pretty seriously. When I start something, I want to see it through until the end. And I really liked tennis. I’ve been playing it since.”
Since then, Huljev has played a lot of tennis, and played it well. Before coming to K-State she reached the finals of the 2005 ITF Croatia Championships in both singles and doubles, was a singles semi-finalist in the 2006 Slovenian Championship and reached the quarterfinals in the singles bracket of the 2007 Slovenian Championships. Her skills on the court eventually resulted in the opportunity to play tennis and attend school at K-State. Those skills aren’t the only thing Huljev brings to the K-State program.
“I think her dedication to tennis is one thing that really stands out,” K-State Coach Steve Bietau said. “Just the love of the game. Obviously, she’s a good athlete and very strong, and in addition to that, she had tennis skills. Combine all of those things and it’s a pretty good situation.”
During her time at K-State, she has fought her way to a career 24-35 doubles record and a 28-33 singles record. The ‘fight’ is one thing that Huljev said she has learned since coming to Manhattan. “I have started to fight more than before,” she said. “I have more passion about it. I always liked it, but I didn’t have that kind of personality. Now I can show it more.”
Coach Bietau said that Huljev has improved since joining the K-State team. Huljev agrees, saying that not only have her tennis skills improved, but her confidence in herself has flourished as well. “After my freshman year, I went back to my country and played in the Slovenian Championship in doubles and singles. I really felt a difference, I felt more confident and everything. I played and I won the Slovenian Championship in singles and in doubles.”
While focusing on tennis may make being far from home a little easier, it doesn’t make the homesickness go away. Being an ocean away from her family and friends took a lot of getting used to. Thankfully, new technology has helped Huljev keep in touch with her family back home. “When I first came, I was excited, and I didn’t really realize that I was so far away,” she said. “After about three weeks, you start to think, ‘oh, I wish my family could be here,’ but they can’t. And you think, ‘I wish I could go home for two days,’ but you can’t go because it is so far away. I can talk to my family all the time on Skype (an internet video-messaging service), which really makes me happy, because I can see them on camera.”
Huljev said her decision to come to K-State was primarily based on her impressions of Coach Bietau as a knowledgeable coach and friendly person. Still, she said it wasn’t easy to decide to move away. However, she knew she wanted to play tennis. So, her parents agreed to let her go to the United States and pursue that dream. “My mom and father always supported me about tennis,” she said. “They saw how much I liked it and I said I would never give up. Even when I had trouble, I said I would never give up, that I would always want to play tennis. When the time came to make a decision to go to America, it was a pretty big deal, because you were going to leave family and go out on your own. They didn’t say, ‘you shouldn’t go, we will miss you.’ They were supportive. They knew there were not a lot of people who were going to get that kind of opportunity.”
In her time at K-State, Huljev has also developed a family in Manhattan. While it doesn’t replace her family at home, it does provide her a connection to the university. “When I came here my freshman year, I made a family here. I have a lot of friends. I’m a person who likes to talk to people and meet new people.”
That K-State connection combined with her ability on the tennis court should help Huljev continue to achieve great things as her tennis career progresses. Bietau says that with the great strides she made as a freshman, the future is certainly looking up for the young sophomore. “She’s playing in the toughest position and she’s been reasonably successful at it,” he said. “It’s still a young stage at her career. She just had a doubles win over a nationally ranked team last week. At times she’s looked dominating. I think she’s got some good things ahead of her.”
While she may be far from her roots in Slovenia, Huljev seems to be perfectly at home anywhere there’s a tennis court. With her passion for the game, all she needs to be content is a ball and racket.