Technology keeping Iowa teams together when separation is necessary

Teams with international players are using technology to stay in touch during the pandemic.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Will Davies hits a volley during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Western Michigan at the HTRC on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Broncos, 4-3.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Both Iowa’s swimming and men’s tennis rosters have a significant international presence. The thing that brought these groups together was a common sport and a common location.

Now that both of those things have been taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams are finding new ways to be together.

“For the last two weeks, we’ve been getting Zoom calls with the coaching staff and the entire team,” sophomore swimmer Anze Fers Erzen said. “So, we kind of stay in touch like that, and they plan to do this weekly for us. It’s more for mental health than anything else. We can just stay in touch, see if everyone is doing OK.”

Fers Erzen, who is originally from Slovenia, is still in Iowa City at this time. He’s one of the seven international student-athletes on the men’s swimming roster. The women’s team has six members from outside the United States.

Zoom, like other online video-chat platforms, has seen a recent uptick in its usage during this period of forced separation. The service is popular among teams and businesses, as it is an easy way to hold meetings.

Founded in 2011, the video service is free to use anywhere in the world, and that’s part of the reason why it has become somewhat of a household name in many countries over the past few months as COVID-19 has forced people into their homes.

The men’s tennis team began having meetings over Zoom soon after its season was canceled March 13. The chance to talk to each other easily is a benefit of the time period for the team, as six of the eight players do not live in the U.S. and five of them are back in their native countries.

“We’re a very close-knit team,” junior Will Davies said. “We’ve got weekly Zoom meetings with the coaches that we’ve put together on our own. Coach hasn’t said to us, ‘Look, I think we should have a Zoom meeting.’ We’ve put this together so that we can all stay in touch. It’s obviously very difficult being so far away from each other. But I definitely think that there aren’t too many boundaries. We’re still in regular contact so we can keep up to date with one another.”

Men’s tennis head coach Ross Wilson has been using technology to contact players because of the large international presence on the roster.

“Guys are texting things in group chats; there’s always a constant stream of communication our team one way or the other,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, with most of our guys being from the UK or Europe, we recruited a lot of them on social media. So, that’s just been a natural way for us to communicate ever since the first day that we got in touch with these guys.”

With Iowa athletes all over the world under the current circumstances, today’s technology has been crucial in keeping communication a possibility.

“Back in the day, if we want to call it that, we did have a decent number of international players in college tennis, and it was just basically by word of mouth and connections. Coaches didn’t travel over there,” Wilson said. “Obviously, phone calls and letters would have been really the only way to keep in touch, and I think your mental health would have definitely suffered in that environment.

“It’s really nice that we can get on our computers and do FaceTime and Zoom calls and group chats and all those types of things trying to keep people connected with each other. Thank God this happened in 2020 and not 1970.”

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