Bratislava, Slovakia, is a bit farther away from Horezu, Romania than Minneapolis is to Chicago.
But as Patty Schnorrerova found out, attending Southwest High School can make the world infinitely smaller.
It was there that Patty, an exchange student from Slovakia met Anna Yarbrough, who was adopted by a Southwest Minneapolis family from the throes of Romania’s oppressive Ceausescu regime when she was 8 months old.
In an ironic turn of events, the two girls have met, halfway across the world, to share their lifelong passions for tennis, taking their tennis team to new heights.
In what was coined a “really big season,” by team captain Maggie Allexsaht, the team notably defeated their longtime rival, Minneapolis’ South High School, moving on to claim victory in both the Minneapolis city championship and the Twin Cities championship.
Schnorrerova and Yarbrough were at the helm of the powerhouse, ranked as the number-one and -two players on the team.
“I’ve been [number] one since my freshmen year of high school up until the beginning of my senior year right now, and then Patty came and she took over my spot and, you know, she deserved it,” Yarbrough said. “She’s a really good player. I enjoy hitting with her.”
Schnorrerova’s serious attitude toward the game was “at first a little bit startling,” Allexsaht said. “She plays at a completely different level.”
Schnorrerova, who trains year-round like Yarbrough, has been playing since she was 8 years old, and said hitting for an American, seasonal high school team was a surprising but not entirely unwelcome change. She admits the team has a more relaxed, less competitive outlook on the game than her Slovakian colleagues.
“In my city, everything is going so fast, [living here is] very good for me because I have relaxed here much more than in my city — I can live without stress here,” Schnorrerova said. Schnorrerova has adapted to being on an American high school team, enjoying the standard pre-game snacks of apples and candy. The team has come to appreciate her seriousness and the skills she has, despite the fact that being on a team here is often about more than the game — namely, making friends and building a community — which can be hard to understand for Schnorrerova, with her eyes set on professional sports.
“The people in Europe, they really work hard for everything,” Schnorrerova said. “That’s a huge difference — the people here are much happier; they more enjoy the game.”
In Europe, the competition is more serious: you have no friends in tennis. “I just want to win. I can talk after,” Schnorrerova said. “It’s a war. It’s a fight.”
Yarbrough said tennis is her life, too, but it’s more important for her to hit against someone she can call her friend. At the age of 3, she entered her rookie days in the game, and she hopes to still be in the game when she’s 80 years old. She appreciated having someone on the team this final senior year who could challenge her at her level.
“When Patty came along, I was able to hit at 100 miles per hour and train for the tournaments I want to play, like the national open, getting ready for college and things like that,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough, in turn, now realizes the importance of working hard to prepare for a match, and although she doesn’t have the same competitive spirit Schnorrerova does, she appreciates her hard work: “I think [Americans are] too nice,” Yarbrough said. “I think [that’s] the difference that’s been proven between Europeans and Americans. Just on our team, Patty is the warm-up queen. Patty always runs before a match — always. I should be doing it, but I don’t.”
Part of Schnorrerova’s speed and agility on the courts comes from years of training on clay courts. “I love the courts [here] because they are much faster than the clay,” she said of the traditional hard courts.
Not only do their cultural differences help each of them in their technical game; Schnorrerova has learned you can have friends in tennis: “Luckily, I found you!” Schnorrerova confessed to Yarbrough. “I think that you are only one friend that I have in the whole tennis. You will never want to do [a] bad thing to me.”
Still, Schnorrerova retains her competitive roots. When asked what her favorite thing about the game is, Schnorrerova jumps out of her seat: “Winning!” she says. “That is the best part. It is not the hard working — I hate [that].”