When foreign exchange student Lenka Kozacenkova arrived at Woodbridge High in August, she was expecting the full American high school experience.
Football games. Homecoming. Bonfires.
She now has done all of that for the first time, and the junior also has sparked an old passion.
Kozacenkova, a citizen of Slovakia, is starring on the Woodbridge girls’ tennis team. Entering the week, she was 8-0 in singles matches and 7-1 in doubles.
“It’s like a complete new life that I’m living here,” Kozacenkova said. "It’s not just the culture differences but also the fact that I’m not here with my family, I’m not with my friends.”
Her return to competitive play was a chance occurrence. Adriana Yenchochic, a senior at Woodbridge and a member of Kozacenkova’s host family, also plays tennis for the Vikings (6-2).
So when spring rolled around, Yenchochic, who believes she has Slovakian ancestors, figured she would invite her guest to try out for the team.
“When we signed up for the [foreign exchange] program, we didn’t know she played tennis,” Yenchochic said. “When we picked her, that’s when we read her bio and she said she played tennis. My family also plays tennis, so it’s kind of just a coincidence.”
Kozacenkova said school sports aren’t as prominent in Slovakia as they are in the United States, so she frequently competed in independent under-15 tournaments from ages 10 to 14.
She quit soon after, tiring of the time commitment and deciding to focus on the rigorous academic schedule in her home country (15 classes in a Slovakian academic year, compared with seven at Woodbridge).
In her free time, she picked up a racket to play casually.
Her seamless transition back to the court may seem like a surprise but not to her teammate and coach, who praise her crisp fundamentals and attention to detail.
“She’s powerful. She knows how to aim the ball, how to place it. She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Yenchochic said.
“You can see she has an internal motivation — that is what propels her,” Coach Joanne Estoclet said.
Kozacenkova said she is expecting to return home June 14, just days after the Virginia High School League tennis championships conclude. Despite improving after finishing last year 6-9, the Vikings are not expected to contend for a state championship.
While she has enjoyed playing doubles with her “sister” Yenchochic and dominating the competition in singles matches, Kozacenkova recently said she had other things on her mind, notably going to the salon to get her fingernails painted for the first time and a trip to California for spring break.
The high school — and American — experience has been memorable.
“For the rest of the year, besides tennis, [I want] to enjoy every second that I’m with Adriana and my [host] family because it’s never going to happen again,” Kozacenkova said.
“But we’re still going to stay siblings forever.”
Kozacenkova was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of playing tennis in college. She said she is considering it, but it’s more contingent on her ability to return to Woodbridge for her senior year. Kozacenkova said she was unsure whether she would be able to come back and get an international diploma.
“I think they’ve all embraced her,” Estoclet said. “She’s a Viking. She’s always going to be a Viking.”