Buckhannon, West Virginia is a long way from the Bavarian Alps in Southeastern Germany...but Rebekka Heigermoser, a native of the town of Traunstein in the state of Bavaria, has made her mark here with the West Virginia Wesleyan tennis team.
Heigermoser, a sophomore, came to Wesleyan in the Fall of 2016 and made an immediate impact in the program of veteran head coach Marc Walters. She finished the season with 8-4 singles record, and was named the Mountain East Conference Freshman of the Year. She helped lead the Lady Bobcats to the MEC semifinals.
According to Walters, Heigermoser has advanced her game on several fronts over the past year since that historic opening season. Now playing in the number two spot for the Lady Bobcats, she posted another stellar 8-4 mark in 2017, and helped her squad back to the MEC Tournament. After the tournament, she was named First Team All-MEC along with the teammate Irene Nunez.
"Rebekka has came a long way from year one to year two," Walters said. "She has gotten stronger and more consistent, but her improvement is more than just her play on the court. She is coming out of her shell a little more and is becoming more of a leader."
Heigermoser began playing back in Germany at the age of 10, getting in recreational matches with her mom. By age 12, she had an official coach and was putting in practice time in official sessions. Her competitive career began on several fronts, playing for her club, but also in various individual tournaments.
"I was unsuccessful for a long time," Heigermoser said. "Most of the other girls had started at a much younger age than me, so I was always just a little behind. It wasn't until I was 16 that I started to have some success in those tournaments."
Heigermoser's trek to Wesleyan was not of the traditional route. It was actually quite a circuitous route to Buckhannon.
"I was not signed up through a recruiting agency like many European athletes are," Heigermoser said. "I googled a list of colleges and investigated the rankings for the different academic programs. Wesleyan was one of the school's that seemed to be a good fit, and then I saw that they also had a good a tennis program."
Shortly thereafter, Heigermoser emailed Walters to begin the process. When some time passed, and she had not heard from him, she began to realize that Wesleyan was indeed a school that she wanted, so she became more persistent.
"I decided to just call him...he pulled up my email and apologized for missing my email," Heigermoser said. "We had a great conversation and he recruited me hard after that."
She entered as a Business major and has added Psychology to her academic track. Her long term goals professionally are to work in the International Business field.
From an athletic and cultural standpoint, Rebekka's transition was not as difficult as some international student-athletes. In fact, she feels it went quite smooth.
"I didn't really feel any pressure to perform at a high level right away since nobody here really knew who I was," Heigermoser said. "I made a point to work on my game a lot the Summer before I came and was able to get a lot practice reps in. I was also focused on getting really fit...I was able to come very well-conditioned and that help me start out well in my freshman year."
Playing alongside Wesleyan veteran Paula Pimenta, Heigermoser's impact was immediate and effective. The pair posted a solid 11-6 record and made the MEC semifinals. Culturally, the move was not that bad for her either.
"Traunstein has between 17,000 and 18,000 people, so it is not really a whole lot bigger than Buckhannon. I actually live about five miles outside the town in a small village," Heigermoser said. "So coming to a small town and a small school was something I was used to and very comfortable with."
"She is making some shots in certain match situations this year, that were a little more difficult for her last year," Walters said. "She is a key player on our team, and I am proud of how she has developed."