Dalecka thrives as international student



Darta Dalecka has traveled thousands of miles from her home in Latvia, and is now a standout on the UNI tennis team.

Jaye Haines , Guest Writer

Twelve years of experience in a sport can take a dedicated athlete a long way, and 12 years of tennis took Darta Dalecka 4,659 miles from home. “I am an international student coming from a country called Latvia,” said Dalecka, a sophomore tennis player at the University of Northern Iowa. 

Finding UNI’s tennis team all the way from Latvia was a “funny story” according to Dalecka. Before discovering an offer from UNI, Dalecka received offers from other colleges starting in October 2021, but they did not seem to check all her boxes. After months of filtering through requirements, in February 2022 she was almost settled on a decision to take a gap year when she received an email from UNI tennis coach Chris Sagers just in time. He had made her an offer a few months prior but typed her email wrong so she had never gotten the message. After talking with Coach Sagers about the offer, Dalecka found that UNI was the place for her. 

Tennis always came easy to Dalecka, but one of her largest obstacles was the initial transition from Latvia to UNI. “It was hard in the first semester to connect all the grammar (of English) in my head,” she said. She admitted that at one point in the semester she was tired of speaking English entirely due to the challenge of speaking it as her primary language. However, language was not the only obstacle that Dalecka had to battle. “One word that relates to every student athlete’s life is time management,” she said. Between her multiple practices, training, classes and even physical therapy throughout the day, she was bound to feel the weight of those responsibilities. Due to these challenges, Dalecka expressed that during her first semester she felt extremely exhausted.

Though Dalecka had to endure challenges, she never gave up, and in turn has grown to feel more confident with her English and time management this past year. “Don’t be afraid of the challenges,” Dalecka says when explaining her most significant takeaway from her experience as an international student. “Just try your best and don’t think about what others think and you’re going to be fine. Embrace the differences.”

Being an international student-athlete, Dalecka faced many challenges but she also has achieved her share of victories. “Since I was a freshman, I was playing as first on the team,” she said. At first, this was a lot of pressure for Dalecka but then she flipped her perspective to see it as “a great challenge” for her to learn and grow as a player. Today, Dalecka continues to play the first position on the team. 

Dalecka was named MVC Player of the Week the week of March 1, 2022, last season after a four-match win streak. She also earned a spot on the Missouri Valley All-Select Team. “I was feeling really great about myself that I’m putting in so much work and it’s paying off,” she said. 

On the academic side of Dalecka’s life, she is an exploratory major but is choosing between declaring a major in communications or psychology, though she is leaning toward communications. After finishing her education at UNI, Dalecka plans to move back home to find a job in the field she chooses. 

Previous to playing tennis for UNI, Dalecka was already an accomplished player back home. “I won the Under 16 Latvian Youth Championships in singles and doubles. That would be one of my biggest accomplishments because that was a national tournament,” said Dalecka.

Dalecka said she has many great friends but nobody compares to her family. Her family consists of her mom Vineta and her dad Deniss, as well as her three siblings, her older sister Marija, 28, her older brother Dags, 23 and her younger brother Reinis, 17. “I would say my family is the strongest influence on my life because I know that they will always be there for me in my good and bad times,” said Dalecka. “I just know they are always there and will be happy for me in everything that I do.” 

She describes her siblings as her best friends even though it’s hard to communicate with them now due to the eight-hour time difference. In her early years, Dalecka said that she tried out for tennis when she was six and playing with her brother Reinis when he was only three years old for fun. Then when she was eight she officially started playing. 

“It was my dream to play division one college tennis and to be playing in the U.S. When I have those hard times, of course, they sometimes happen, I can remind myself that I wanted this, it’s my passion and I am grateful for that.”