Senior Gertjan De Wilder came to America from his hometown of Machelen, Belgium, not knowing any English and his goal was to change that.
That indeed happened when De Wilder started playing junior college tennis at Cypress College in California.
With De Wilder speaking Dutch (his first language), some players on the team spoke Dutch and French so at first it was tough transition to learning fluent English.
But once those players left, he was forced to learn English at a faster rate.
And that could explain why De Wilder is an outgoing individual, very upbeat and doesn’t like to sit around a whole lot.
De Wilder’s first interest was soccer, and near his home was a soccer academy for tryouts, but he found it wasn’t what he wanted. Instead, less than a mile from his home was a tennis academy and at the age of five the coaches there loved De Wilder’s ability, and he began his journey in tennis.
When De Wilder transferred from Cypress College, three big things stood out on what he looked for in his next destination: Location, competition and team culture.
When he visited Eastern he quickly gained comfort from guys like Gage Kingsmith, Freddie O’Brien and others.
One thing De Wilder liked in America was water is free at restaurants. Anywhere in Belgium, he would have to pay for water.
What some may not know, is De Wilder and junior Mike Jansen live just 50 minutes away from each other back home, and they’re roommates here in Charleston.
“We do everything together and we speak the same language,” De Wilder said. “When we’re back home, we still hangout out, like over summer he comes to my place or I will go to his place and we’re best friends here at school.”
De Wilder likes the fit at Eastern because in California he didn’t have the luxury of seeing his friends all the time due to a larger city, but here in Charleston, he sees most of his friends more frequently due to a smaller campus.
De Wilder is a member of the fraternity, Sigma Pi, along with teammate Braden Davis.
“I want to do everything that has to do with college.” he said. “I was asking myself should I do it or not, I’m here once in my life, I’ll only be in college once, so that’s why I joined it.”
Something that stands out for De Wilder is Davis is always supportive in the sidelines during matches.
“His strengthen is to cheer,” De Wilder said. “Whether he cheers for me or others, he can win a match from the sideline, and there’s not a lot of guys that can do that. He can annoy your opponent and he can raise your level.”
De Wilder’s junior college’s program got cut for cheating. The previous coach before hiring a new coach was paying his top players which is a no-go.
“We lost conference the first year, we won conference the second year about to go to the playoffs, but another school said you have to look into their papers, and the National Junior College Athletic Association stepped in, and our program got cut and we got kicked out of the playoffs.”
De Wilder added:
“We got caught the year after because of what the previous coach did. So, we got punished for something the second coach didn’t do because the guys that were paid, they left already. We won conference without doing anything wrong, but we got punished for the year before.”
While all this happened, De Wilder knew he had to get out, but he had one semester left. He was recruited by former head coach Sam Kercheval to come in the fall of 2018 but chose to stay to get his AA degree from Cypress College.
When newly hired head coach Chris Tolson came aboard, he was the former coach at Arizona Christian. Oddly enough, De Wilder was familiar with Tolson because Tolson’s teams would play their conference matches at De Wilder’s junior college.
“I played his previous team and he’s seen me play as well … and I was in contact with him before to see whatever was possible at his school.” De Wilder said. “I thought I lost my chance to go to Eastern but then I saw Chris (Tolson) was at Eastern and I sent him an email to see if I could join Eastern. He knew me, he responded immediately, and he said there was a spot free and I landed at Eastern.”
After this spring season, De Wilder plans to become a graduate assistant while combining his studying with coaching. If that falls through, De Wilder said he would likely go back to Belgium. If that’s the case, he hopes go study in Spain.
Vince Lovergine can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]