Senior foreign exchange student ‘serves’ up success this tennis season


Catherine Hewawissa

Hermanova took first place in the second singles position at the conference tournament.

Topping off the 2022 Varsity lineup for the girls’ tennis team was a new name at DGS– Nikola (Niki) Hermanova, a senior from the Czech Republic studying in Illinois for first semester. Ending the season as a state qualifier with an impressive 35-7 record, Hermanova proved herself to be a great asset to the team.

The process of getting into and planning a semester abroad was intricate and extensive, including several applications for the student as well as background checks and character references for the host family. Tennis threw an extra step into that process as it required an early arrival. Council for Educational Travel, USA (CETUSA), the program Hermanova is traveling with, has guidelines stating that the student can only come in a week before school starts, so almost immediately after her Aug. 5 arrival, Hermanova headed straight to the courts with little time to adjust.

Hermanova’s tennis skills helped carry the team to one of its most successful seasons, including a 1st place victory in the WSC Gold Conference, 2nd place in the Lyons Township Sectional and a tie for 25th in the Class 2A IHSA State Tennis Tournament. She played wherever she was needed in the lineup, mostly playing Doubles– the position she qualified for state in, but also playing singles matches, a position she reigned undefeated in.

Head Tennis Coach Josh Forst explains what makes Hermanova such a great player.

“She’s both consistent and hits with a lot of pace, she can really hit the ball hard and hit people off the court. So, she has a whole court game,” Forst said.

Hermanova has been playing tennis for 11 years– since she was six years old. Unlike high schools in the US, schools in the Czech Republic don’t have high school sports teams, so athletes have to find a way to play their sport on their own. This makes participating in athletics very serious and, typically, quite expensive.

“[In the Czech Republic] you have to choose your sport and find a club and a coach. Practice during the week and Saturday and Sunday I have tournaments, and you have to pay for all of it,” Hermanova said.

The level of tennis she plays back home gives her plenty of experience with the competitive side of the sport, but she wasn’t familiar with the team aspect the DGS tennis provided her. She cites the cheering, support and overall team atmosphere as the best part of her experience. The players on the team like to mix up their cheering, calling Hermanova and her doubles partner “Team Europe” between screams of “Let’s go Mustangs!” and “Nice shot, get big!”

While playing on the team was important to her, perhaps the biggest takeaway was the bonds she made throughout the experience. 10 of the 18 players on the varsity team were seniors, so Hermanova was able to find a lot of friends quickly.

It was cool seeing the relationships built between her and teammates. It seemed like everybody embraced her, especially the senior group. It seemed like very quickly, she had a group of friends– which I know especially as a student coming from a different country as a senior was probably very difficult for her. So seeing players gravitate to her and become friends with her very quickly I’m sure helped with her transition into a completely different culture,

— Josh Forst, Head Tennis Coach

Her “host mom,” Shannon Grace observed how making these bonds impacted Hermanova’s time here.

“It has had a huge impact, huge. She has adjusted very well with being in America and being away from home and in her normal surroundings, but I feel like once she started at DGS and gained her friendships with [the team], it was a huge turning point, she was comfortable but then it feels like it became a second home,” Grace said

Hermanova won several matches and even the Sportsmanship award during the season, but more importantly, she won a spot in her teammates’ hearts.

Senior Elle Vanderlaan has grown close to Hermanova over the past few months.

“Niki has become one of my best friends. I never would’ve guessed at the start of the school year that coming into my senior year I’d meet such a nice person. I am going to miss her so much,” Vanderlaan said.

Back home in the Czech Republic, Hermanova’s mom Hana Hermanova expresses her pride after hearing Hermanova’s news about qualifying for state.

“We were so happy for her and hoped that she’d do well. Niki is a very kind and conscious young lady and we’re very much looking forward to her return,” Hermanova said.

Hermanova’s semester at DGS will come to an end on Dec. 16, 2022, when she will head back to Europe to finish off the rest of her junior and senior years. After that, she hopes to return to the US to play tennis at the collegiate level.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Grace

I want her to come home– and I do say home because she is home. This is her second home, she can almost move here. She will be missed very much. I get a little emotional when I think about it,

— Shannon Grace, Hermanova's 'Host Mom'