May 24, 2014
By Tyler Serritt
Grady Sports Media
ATHENS, Ga. -- While many people move across states to play college tennis, the University of Georgia's Maho Kowase moved 7,000 miles and crossed an ocean.
She arrived knowing few people and even less English. She will leave as one of the most successful tennis players to ever don the red and black.
Kowase, who is playing in the 2014 NCAA doubles championship with her partner Lauren Herring this weekend at UGA's Dan Magill Tennis Complex, was born and raised in Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan.
Since relocating to Athens as a teenager, she has accumulated 242 combined career singles and doubles wins. Kowase is now in the record books as the winningest player in UGA women's tennis.
"I can't even believe that I achieved all of that yet," Kowase said. "There are just so many great players that come through here. I just look at that stuff and I say `Wow.' I am honored to even be talked about with the others. I have just tried to enjoy every single match."
As her statistics show, Kowase never had a problem with tennis skills. After playing on an international stage for most of her life, a failure to communicate was her biggest obstacle as a freshman at Georgia.
Growing up in Japan, Kowase never learned how to speak English. She struggled to talk to coaches and teammates.
"It was such a hard adjustment," Kowase said. "I couldn't speak any English at all when I came here. I had to work hard, really hard, to have any confidence."
The language barrier also affected her academics. Kowase struggled with tests and classes early, threatening her eligibility to simply remain on the team.
"It was a really difficult time for her," UGA women's head coach Jeff Wallace said. "That is probably the biggest thing I have seen her struggle with. It threatened her grades and the tests she was taking. Her growth has been amazing."
Once Kowase had a better grasp on the language, she became a consistent force for UGA. She has earned All-SEC First Team honors four times.
As a marketing major, she has been named a national Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar Athlete and earned a spot on the SEC academic honor roll twice. She was also on the UGA athletic director's honor roll.
Her leadership and sportsmanship has also earned respect from coaches and players around the country. After her junior season, she was awarded the NCAA Sportsmanship Award and the UGA Sportsmanship and Ethics Award.
"She is just an unbelievable person all the way around," Wallace said. "Her off-court attitude and how she presents herself in the classroom is phenomenal. She is an example for everyone else on the team. You honestly cannot say enough good things about how she is outside of tennis."
As Kowase's senior year draws to a close, UGA is losing a versatile player and a valuable mentor. The accolades are nice, but as Kowase reflects on her college career she is just happy she got to enjoy it as it lasted.
"It just feels like it's been so long, but at the same time it's felt too short," Kowase said. "I grew so much as a student, a tennis player and a person here. There are just so many memories. It has been a great time."
Serritt is a student in Grady Sports Media, a program at UGA's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.