After traveling 5,000 miles to the United States, senior political science major Alina Munteanu, of Bacau, Romania, came with the dream to have an opportunity to ace her college education while playing tennis.
Munteanu first started playing tennis when she was six years old, and although she has a passion for her sport now, her outlook on the sport was different in the beginning.
“I hated tennis in the beginning. My mom got me started at six, and she told me we were going to the park, and we got there and we weren’t at the park,” Munteanu said. “[While on the tennis court] I missed the first ball and the other kids started laughing and I threw my racket and left.”
Munteanu said she eventually gained respect for the game because of her mother.
“[My mom] always wanted to play tennis when she was little, but it was during communism, so she didn’t have as many opportunities,” Munteanu said. “She felt it was the best sport for me for my height and build.”
Munteanu is currently 7-5 at No. 1 singles for the Cougars. She left the University of Montevallo in Alabama, where she spent her first three years of college, to play tennis for SIUE this season.
“I was very comfortable, playing-wise, at a Division II level, and I decided it was time to challenge myself and see a different level for my senior year,” Munteanu said. “I played Division II for three years and I thought that the only way to grow as a player was to make this step.”
Head Coach Adam Albertsen said Munteanu works hard and has a passion for the game.
“As a player, I have never run into anyone that has the work ethic and fire for every point, every practice, she wants to win,” Albertsen said.
Previously at the University of Montevallo, Munteanu was named Gulf South Conference All-Conference during the 2017-18 season. She had a 19-2 No. 1 singles record in 2018, set a school record for the most individual singles wins in a season during the 2017-18 season with 26 wins and set the school record for all-time singles wins with 67 and all-time doubles wins with 56 during her three years at Montevallo.
Munteanu also set the school record for most doubles wins in a season with 24 in the 2017-18 season and was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Southeast Region Rookie of the Year for the 2015-16 season.
Sophomore management major Maria Garcia, of Valencia, Spain, was Munteanu’s doubles partner in the 2017-18 season at Montevallo.
“I loved playing with [Munteanu]. She was very competitive and always kept me focused on the court, and we won a lot of matches together,” Garcia said. “I miss playing with her but I understand her wanting to move forward and I’m really proud of her and how she cares about tennis and the effort she puts into it.”
Garcia said Munteanu was a good teammate and friend.
“She’s one of the nicest people you will ever meet and she really cares a lot about her friends and her teammates,” Garcia said.
Albertsen first recruited Munteanu when he coached at the University of Montevallo. Munteanu transferred to SIUE to play Division I with the coach she started with.
“[Albertsen] was obviously the one who recruited me to begin with, and before I came to the United States, I didn’t have really good rankings, I would say, and he was the only one to give me a chance,” Munteanu said. “[Coming to SIUE] was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss out on going forward.”
Munteanu came to SIUE to play first singles after the 2017-18 season where the SIUE program did not have any team wins.
Albertsen said Munteanu has helped build two tennis programs.
“In a way [Munteanu] has kind of helped start and build two programs,” Albertsen said. “I recruited her in two different situations that were very similar in a lot of ways and she came to set the work ethic, set the tone and it’s really helped with recruits that looked at us from the outside at both programs as well as adding that boost to the team.”
In 2015, Munteanu decided to play tennis in the United States because it offered more opportunities for her to grow.
“The United States combines the opportunity to play tennis and get a college education,” Munteanu said. “[Coming to the United States] has been a good thing for me because if I was back home I couldn’t have done both and probably would have just gotten an education and not play tennis,” Munteanu said.
Although she has enjoyed her time in the United States, moving from Romania was a big change for Munteanu.
“It was the first time I was away from my family, so it was very hard in the beginning, and sometimes it’s still tough, but you get used to it and you know you are growing as a person,” Munteanu said.
Munteanu has accepted a graduate assistantship at a nationally-ranked program after she graduates from SIUE.
“She doesn’t want to disclose the name of the program just yet; not all the paperwork is finalized yet,” Albertsen said. “She’ll complete her MBA [there] as well and will have a diversified educational background when she is all said and done.”
Munteanu said she has enjoyed her time at SIUE and wishes she had more time at the university.
“I love it here and it’s a shame that I couldn’t be here for at least one more year because I think it would be really good for me as a tennis player,” Munteanu said.