Down Under athletes overcome obstacles

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    By Sokphal Tun

    Five months ago, freshmen Rebecca Pike and Nicole Schneider left the country where the Crocodile Hunter and kangaroos reside and came to Provo to play tennis.

    Associates of head coach Craig Manning, who had seen Pike play, slipped her name to him a year ago.

    “They told me that she was ranked No. 2 and doing pretty well playing in the professional tour as an amateur,” he said.

    Pike was recruited by Oklahoma and Utah, but friends” comments and their knowledge of BYU was what pulled her into the program.

    For a year, Manning made weekly connections over the phone with Pike and her family, until she got interested in coming to play at BYU.

    For six months Pike, a native of Brisbane, Australia, joined the junior tennis circuit and played in tournaments before having to drop out when she was diagnosed with Lupus.

    Lupus affects joints and organs, causing them to become inflamed with severe pain and can be deadly. With medication and monthly blood tests, Pike”s case is mild and is in remission. At the end of her time on the junior circuit she was ranked 600 in the world and No. 2 in Australia.

    Another obstacle that Pike and Manning had to go through was getting Pike cleared at the NCAA Clearinghouse. Manning called every day for three months to see if Pike had been cleared or not.

    When sidelined at games, Pike could be seen on the stands, but her voice is what fans noticed more. Manning and her teammates know how valuable Pike is to the team even off the court.

    “She”s such a good team player,” Manning said. “She”s got a great attitude and brings a lot to the team. Rebecca is always supporting the team by being the loudest fan out of anyone during the games.”

    Pike was finally able to make her first appearance for the Cougars in mid-March.

    In Las Vegas on March 22, the Cougars met UNLV and San Diego State. Pike was able to play the first day, but the next day her joints were sore to the point where she could hardly walk, but still managed to compete, even with a defeat.

    “It”s hard to be fit for every match,” Pike said. “I get really stiff after every exercise. I am in pain most of the time, and I know I”ll have it for the rest of my life.”

    Her singles record 2-5, does not appear impressive, but Pike knows that it will take more time to reach her peak to make up for the time off and the recuperation from her illness.

    Even with the painful disease, Pike remains positive.

    “She”s been playing and getting stronger and stronger every match,” Manning said. “She”s pretty tough – mentally tough.”

    If she had stayed in Australia, more than likely Pike would be taking classes to coach tennis and also be attending a university in Australia, but she does not plan on going back to the junior tour anytime soon.

    Pike”s roommate and teammate, Schneider from Canberra, Australia, had also been recruited by Manning.

    The thought of attending BYU made Schneider apprehensive at first.

    “I knew that it was mainly made of the LDS religion,” she said. “But I was worried because I”m Catholic, and I”ve never even heard of Mormons, so I didn”t know what to expect. I thought people were going to try and convert me to their religion.”

    Instead Schneider”s fears were calmed.

    “That hasn”t happened at all. I”ve been sort of asking questions, and the girls in my dorm have come in and explained anything that I wanted to know,” she said. “They haven”t pushed it on me or anything.”

    The kindness and support that Pike and Schneider received from their team members has also helped both of them adjust to the life in the United States.

    “They look out for you,” Schneider said.

    Something that Schneider and Pike saw for the first time was snow. It falls abundantly in Utah – even in mid-April.

    “The first day I came here, it was snowing,” Schneider said. “I went cross-country skiing with my class and was the only one that had never gone before. I stayed back with my teacher who was helping me. I held on to the poles so tight because I was so nervous, and when I fell I didn”t think I could ever get back up.”

    Schneider and Pike, along with the rest of the No. 4 seed Cougars (9-12, 4-3) will face the No. 5 seed Utes again in the first round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.

    They defeated the Utes 5-2 last weekend on the Utes” court, and will now be hosting the Utes with the help of senior Brooke Beverly who was not able to play.

    “We”re just really looking forward to it,” Manning said. “We”re glad that we”re playing Utah because they”re a really strong team.”

    The Cougars will play at the indoor courts Thursday at 2 p.m.

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