New Zealand native Cliffe finding success at Eastern


Justin Brown

Freshman Stella Ciffe prepares to hit the ball during practice in Lantz Fieldhouse Tuesday afternoon. Cliffe currently leads the team in wins witha record of 8-1.

Parker Valentine, Tennis Reporter


Being a freshman at a new school can be difficult. Especially when the school is 7,000 miles away from home. Freshman Stella Cliffe sure is making the transition look easy, at least in terms of on court

Cliffe is from Auckland, New Zealand. She started playing tennis when she was seven years old.

Cliffe played numerous sports as a child so her parents took her to a local tennis club to see if she would like it. It turns out that it was a very sound idea since Cliffe took an immediate like to it.

At the age of nine, Cliffe competed in her first competitive tennis match. The event was in an age ten and under league.

From there, she gained more and more interest in tennis. Eventually Cliffe went on to compete on her high school tennis team. Cliffe attended Westlake Girls’ High School in her hometown of Auckland.

While attending Westlake, Cliffe helped lead her team to back-to-back Auckland Champion of Champions tournament victories. She also won the Junior G4 International Tennis Federation doubles title while competing in Auckland.

As Cliffe spends more and more time in the United States, she has started to realize just how different the culture really is.

“Everyone knows each other back in New Zealand, at almost every match and tournament that I played I would know everyone participating because there are such limited tournaments, everyone plays and gets to know each other well,” Cliffe said.

The college environment and competition does not leave much room for competing athletes to
form relationships.

“College athletics here is such a huge part of every university. In New Zealand you could never be in a sports team at university, it just doesn’t exist,”
said Cliffe.

Cliffe is off to a very hot start to her collegiate career. The freshman has a record of 8-1 in her first spring season with the Panthers.

A large part of the comfort level she has grown to have in this country has a lot to do with her teammates and coach Emily Wang.

“My teammates definitely helped me to acclimate to living in a new country as they were very supportive and inclusive right away as I arrived here. They made sure I was always included in whatever they were doing,” Cliffe said. “Coach Wang was helpful in getting me settled in as she was always available for help with anything I may need whether it be tennis, academics or anything else.”

Coach Wang has a high opinion of Cliffe as well.

“Stella is a great player, good student, and a wonderful person. She is the silent warrior on our team. Stella is steady and works hard each day. I have enjoyed getting to know her and coaching her during her time at EIU,” Coach Wang said.

Cliffe has paired up with senior Kelly Iden for the majority of the spring season. The duo of Cliffe and Iden has been having a solid go this season with their record currently at 5-3.

“With our freshman-senior doubles duo, I have found that Stella brings not only a competitive side, but also brings a funny, light-hearted side. I have really enjoyed playing with her and getting to know her on a personal level this year,” Iden said.

Being such a tight-knit team has really changed Cliffe’s perception of the sport as a whole.

“I now want to win for my team, but back in New Zealand even if I was in a team it was more about individual success,” Cliffe said.

Parker Valentine can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]