Photo provided by Steve Woltmann.
Kristen Fazio, Contributor
Zsofia Lanstiak isn’t your ordinary Lewis University athlete, as she is nearly 5,000 miles away from home.
Lanstiak is a friendly and humble junior psychology major who left behind her native country in Hungary to join the Lewis women’s tennis team. While she was growing up in Hungary, she typically played by herself in individuals. When she arrived at Lewis, she welcomed having teammates with open arms.
“In Hungary, I was playing tournaments as an individual, and here I’m playing as part of a team,” Lanstiak said. “The focus is on being part of a team. It’s awesome that you have people to rely on.”
Fresh from a workout, donning a Lewis T-shirt and Nike baseball cap, Lanstiak speaks openly about her tennis beginnings, her time at Lewis, missing home and her future after she graduates.
She recalls the moment when she picked up a tennis racket for the first time. Smiling, she fondly remembers it was her father, Attila, who also plays tennis, who got her into playing the sport that she loves.
“I was three when I first started playing tennis; I haven’t stopped since then,” Lanstiak said.
She began playing in tournaments around the age of 10. Since then, her achievements have led her to Romeoville. Tennis runs in the family. Besides her father, her grandmother and sister also play.
It was Brett Bridel, head coach of women’s tennis at Lewis, who convinced her to come play for Lewis.
“Everything happened pretty fast after he came to watch me play in Hungary,” Lanstiak said. “He was the main reason I decided to come here.”
When she arrived at Lewis, Lanstiak battled being homesick and getting accustomed to the lifestyle, language and food of a different country. After a few months of getting used to the American lifestyle, it has been somewhat of a smooth transition.
“At first, it was kind of hard to get used to English around me all the time. It was kind of shocking,” Lanstiak said. “It was hard getting used to the food. I miss Hungarian food like crazy. I crave it sometimes.”
Lanstiak attended a five-year bilingual high school, and was required to pass the SAT and the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language) before arriving at Lewis.
Smiling at a teammate who walks by, she speaks about missing her family. She came over on her own and left her family behind. Their support for her has remained unwavering, and she keeps in touch with them as often as she can.
“I have one and a half years left, and I don’t want it to end,” Lanstiak said. “I miss my family, but it’s OK. We talk, Skype and exchange emails. I miss my friends too, but I know I will always have them.”
In 2010, Lanstiak ranked 58th in women’s singles in Hungary, and she attributes a couple of her coaches from back home as having major influences on her career.
“My coaches back home had a huge impact on my game and my attitude toward tennis,” Lanstiak said. “I changed a lot through the years. Mentally, I became much stronger. Without them, I don’t think I would be able to be here.”
She remained modest when speaking of herself, but last season in singles play, Lanstiak finished 36-2 and was selected as the GLVC player of the year. Riding a 30-game winning streak, she capped off the season ranked 25th in the country.
In doubles, it was more or less the same. Partnered with Zsofia Kranczicki (who is also from Hungary), the duo finished the season 36-3.
There is also a professional player Lanstiak idolizes, and it isn’t Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova. It’s Australian Samantha Stosur, who is currently ranked number nine in the world. Although admitting she doesn’t get to watch much tennis, she models her game after Stosur.
“I started to follow her when she wasn’t really a big deal, and I thought she was going to be really good,” Lanstiak said. “I really like her style and the way she plays. Many people tell me that I play like her; it’s a huge compliment.”
This season, Lanstiak is hopeful the women’s team can again reach the national tournament and possibly even get past the Sweet 16. True to her previous comments, she beams with excitement when speaking about the two freshmen, or “freshies,” as she playfully calls them, who joined the team this year.
“It would be awesome if we could repeat last year; I think we will be really good this season,” she said. “I see a lot of potential in the freshmen.”
Lanstiak is unsure whether she will stay in the U.S. or return home to Hungary after she graduates next year.
“I don’t know if I will stay when I graduate,” she said. “Sometimes I say yes; sometimes I say no. It depends on many things. If you were to ask me now, I would say yes.”
Whichever she decides, it was Lanstiak’s dream to come to the U.S. to study and play tennis, and she has done just that.