/How in the world did you get to UM? 
Map showing what countries UM athletes call home. Graphic by Cady Inabinett, Editor in chief. Made using MapChart, using data from UM Athletics' website.

How in the world did you get to UM? 

By Sarah Turner, Sports editor 

With 24 NCAA Division II athletic teams and more than 500 student athletes, it’s no secret that Montevallo’s campus is home to some elite talent. Athletes come to the bricks from across the country, and sometimes even around the world.  

81 international athletes make their home here in central Alabama, but one has to wonder: how do they get here? 

“In high school I really liked to run,” said Mateo Lopez-Hernandez, “so I was like if I could maintain that in college I would very much like to.” 

Lopez-Hernandez is a junior on the men’s cross country and track and field teams from Bogotá, Colombia. 

Most of the athletes here just wanted to compete at a higher level and still be able to get an education, and college sports are generally not offered at international colleges and universities. 

“I wanted to pursue my career as a swimmer, and coming to America was a big option,” said Juan Diego Celis, a junior on the men’s swim team from Barranquilla, Colombia. 

The recruiting process is very different for international athletes than it is for athletes in the states. 

A lot of stateside athletes will reach out directly to college coaches, or coaches will directly contact them via email or in-person scouting events. 

Most international athletes work through various online agencies to get in touch with college coaches, since it’s more difficult to contact coaches directly, like domestic athletes are able to.  

Prospective student athletes build an online profile with stats, scores and times. Coaches can browse through websites or the agencies can get in direct contact with the coaches as a medium. 

“It’s kind of like social media,” said Francesca deRoover, a sophomore on the women’s golf team from Waterloo, Belgium. 

deRoover and Celis explained that they interacted with a lot of potential college coaches through FaceTime, where they would show them the school’s campus and athletic facilities.  

For Lopez-Hernandez, finding and deciding on Montevallo wasn’t too difficult, as one of his high school teammates already attended the school. He also liked the Montevallo coach’s training philosophy.  

Before deciding on a school, potential student athletes will generally take a few “official visits” to their top school choices in order to get a better feel for the campus and team. 

Lopez-Hernandez, Celis and deRoover were all unable to take an official visit to campus before committing to the school. For all three, their first time on the bricks was when they moved into school in August.  

“That’s kind of like a surprise thing when you get here,” explained deRoover, “I mean, some people can afford coming here, but I didn’t have time and it’s a lot of money coming down here just for a visit.” 

Moving in was also the first time deRoover had ever even been to the United States, so being on a team with other international students was important to her. It was also important for her to go to a school in the South, because golf can be played year round in the warm weather. 

“I think I got lucky because my teammates are so sweet and we have a pretty good team,” she said.  

Celis transferred to Montevallo this year from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. He was surprised by the differences in weather from Ohio to Alabama. 

“In Ohio, it’s very cold and it’s always snowing, and here, one day is cold, the other day is hot,” he said. 

Earning a degree and competing in collegiate athletics is difficult for anyone, but especially when you’re extremely far away from home. 

All three athletes said there’s one thing they miss the most about being home: food. Specific dishes and family meals that they can’t get while they’re at school. They also miss their family and friends that they don’t get to see very often.  

“I try not to be too homesick every time I’m here, it’s only 4 years so it’s gonna go by pretty fast,” said deRoover, who plans to go back to Belgium for a Master’s degree after she graduates from Montevallo.  

Lopez-Hernandez also misses being home frequently, but explained that his teammates now play an important role in his life.  

“I didn’t expect to become that close to that many people so quickly,” he said, “I’ve got such a tight knit group of friends, and it was all within a year of knowing them.” 

The people that the three have met at Montevallo have been a major part of their experience in the States, and it makes it easier for them to be away from home for so long.  

“I’m very lucky to have [my teammates],” said deRoover. 

The Falcon athletic community is strong and still growing, and as these three athletes will tell you, it’s easy to find a home on the bricks, no matter where you come from. 

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