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Spotlight: Tennis freshman brings a French twist

BY NICK SZAFRANSKI | JANUARY 25, 2011 7:10 AM

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Jessica Cohen isn’t able to eat dinner with her family on Friday nights for the first time in 19 years.

That is because Cohen is in Iowa City — nearly 4,300 miles away from her home in Paris.

The 19-year-old touched down in the United States on Jan. 5 with just one suitcase and her equipment bag, ready to take on her next challenge: college.

She came to Iowa City to play for the Iowa women’s tennis team and to pursue a career in business.

The athletically built brunette first picked up a racket when she was 7. From that point on, she never put it down.

She traveled year-round, all over the world, from North America to Europe to South America.

Cohen was home-schooled by her parents from an early age because of the hectic schedule of her tennis life.

“It was intense and at times it got lonely, but it helped me so much for further down the road,” Cohen said.

From the time she was little, she wanted to take the same path as her brother’s who studied business in college; Frederic and Mickael Cohen studied business in Paris and in Boston, respectively. Along with majoring in pre-business, she is also studying finance. Having taken a full year off of school before becoming a Hawkeye, she said she is set to take on anything.

Cohen compared majoring in business to playing in a tennis match.

“It is a challenge,” she said. “Everything is strategic; it’s a competition of thinking.”

Her dorm room is organized and pristine, not a single loose paper anywhere. The walls are as white as a canvas is blank. She said her desk is where she gets all of her thinking done, and she loves her classes thus far.

“Being home-schooled, I had to know how to be organized and learn how to keep my concentration without getting distracted,” she said.

Said Annie Cohen, Jessica’s mother, “Jessica was always dedicated to whatever choice she made.”

Instead of taking her career to the professional level this year, she wanted to get an education before she made a long-term decision.

“School is always first,” Cohen said. “And besides, after I get my degree, I will still only be 22, and I will have the option to play tennis.”

Iowa head coach Katie Dougherty said that Jessica had always “been on their radar” but it just was a matter of getting her to visit. At 18, she was ranked 1,005 in the world in singles and 677 in doubles.

“We just kept plugging away at her, and then she finally came on a visit when we went up against Wake Forest,” Dougherty said.

Cohen was deciding between Iowa and Texas, and she made her decision after touring the Iowa City campus.

The women’s tennis team has three players who were born outside the United States: Cohen, Sonja Molnar, who is from Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and Cassandra Escobar, who hails from Guatemala City, Guatemala. According to rosters on the Hawkeyes’ official website, the athletics department has 676 athletes competing, 33 of whom were born outside the States.

Cohen said other than missing family and friends, the transition has been very easy so far thanks to the women on the tennis team.

“People here are a lot more welcoming and kind than people in France,” she said and laughed.


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