Wiecha making the most of her new surroundings at the U

In Poland, high school lasts until the dark falls late at night. For Magdalena Wiecha , the day was far from over after classes finished. Wiecha would go home, eat, and then return to school to do what she loves most: play tennis. Wiecha, now a freshman on the Minnesota womenâÄôs tennis team, has come far from practicing in her Polish high school gymnasium at night âÄî the only place she was allowed to practice. There were days when physical education classes would be canceled so the students could watch her play. Wiecha, who credits her dad for her love of tennis, not only had the following of her family and peers, but of many people and coaches in her small hometown of Brzesko, Poland. According to head coach Tyler Thomson , each coach helped with different aspects of her game. âÄúPeople in the community really took an interest in her. They all collaborated,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúIt was very clear that they all had a deep respect for one another and her.âÄù Thomson, who has recruited dozens of international players in his eight years as head coach at Minnesota , made a special trip to Europe last year to see if he could find what the Gophers needed. He found it in Wiecha. A Polish scholarship agency for athletes, called Amerlink , greatly helped Thomson narrow his search even before leaving. Thomson originally didnâÄôt know his choice would be Wiecha. He had a genuine interest in another Polish player, but after seeing WiechaâÄôs undefeated record against her, and finding that the other prospect had just committed to Penn State, the choice was easy. Yet this wasnâÄôt the only reason Thomson picked Wiecha, a 20-time national tournament winner and holder of eight Polish championship medals; he also appreciated where she came from. âÄúI didnâÄôt know that Magda was going to be the one. But after I met her and her family, I knew that she was going to be a good fit for our team,âÄù Thomson said. Wiecha seemed just as convinced after meeting Thomson. âÄúI was sure that I had to choose Minnesota as my place to study and play tennis,âÄù she said. Wiecha, a member of a modest Polish family that owns second-hand clothing stores in her hometown, grew up in an environment that stressed the concept of hard work. âÄúShe comes from a background where she wasnâÄôt given everything; she had to work for everything. [She] doesnâÄôt take anything for granted,âÄù assistant coach Daria Panova said. Now, playing for a respected American program, Wiecha is maximizing the opportunities she is so appreciative of, including actual tennis courts and one main coach that cares about her. âÄúI try to do my best every day, and I think IâÄôm hard working; I really like hard work. I really love this place,âÄù Wiecha said. Thomson sees a no-nonsense attitude in Wiecha every time she takes the court, but he pushes her even further because he cares about her. âÄúShe knows that itâÄôs for good reasons and good intentions,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúIâÄôve tried to let her know and continue to let her know that I care about her.âÄù Wiecha has a steadfast relationship with Thomson and the rest of the team, particularly Niltooli Wilkins, the GophersâÄô other freshman. Wilkins, a Burnsville-native , shares many of WiechaâÄôs traits, and her family helped ease WiechaâÄôs transition to the United States. Wilkins will even visit Wiecha in Poland this summer. Thomson sees a bright future for Wiecha, who has already shown characteristics of a great player and leader âÄî something she shares with everyone. âÄúI think she certainly has characteristics that are setting good examples for everybody on the team, including the seniors,âÄù Thomson said.