Just To Be Asking: Lena Kleinhage

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Today, Northeast Dubois will play in its first tennis regional in 24 years. The jeeps arrived there with the help of their plucky german exchange student, who’s not afraid to wage war with bugs or use unorthodox methods on the court.

When people from the U.S. think of Germany they think of Frankfurt and Berlin, and people from Germany probably think of New York and Chicago and big cities when they think of the U.S. Were you expecting this, cornfields and cows?
I expected it to be a little bigger. But it’s all right. I really like it here.

Your coach called you “our fiery little German.” Is that a good word for you, fiery?
It better be. (Laughs) Yeah, it’s louder with me.

Your voice can be heard loud and clear from all the way over here when you guys were going through drills just now. Are you usually loud like that?
(Laughs) Yeah, I think so. That’s me.

I understand you didn’t really play much tennis before you came here?
I did. Where I play tennis, we kind of (stink). It’s fun to win here and be successful. But at home we are not. We don’t have school teams in Germany. Every sport is private. Like here, you practice after school. But it’s different. We only practice two times a week.

What’s the feeling coming here and actually winning?
It’s a lot of fun, especially the girls, I think we’re all good friends. We’ve become really good friends, and I’m going to miss them a lot.

You did swimming here, too. Had you done that before?
Yeah, that was completely new. I wasn’t very good either. (Laughs) First, I wanted to play basketball, but ... it’s really serious here. And I haven’t played basketball before. I couldn’t really practice with them, so I switched to swimming, it’s more of an individual sport. That was easier.

That’s one of the first lessons to learn about Indiana, is that basketball is super serious here, isn’t it.
Yeah. My host sister (Taylor Bauer) plays, so I went to almost every girls basketball game. It was funny, though. I had fun. I think I went to practice like four times and then I quit. But it was fun, though.

The practices you did attend, how did you compare to the other players?
They were a lot better than me. Yep. (Laughs). I (stunk).

Honesty — I like it. Do you always tend to be pretty loud and pretty “out there” when you’re playing? At that match last week against Forest Park, you seemed to be yelling a lot. What were you shouting at?
One time I was shouting at a bug because it was attacking me. It wouldn’t get off, and I was hitting it with my racket, and it wouldn’t get off. And then I hit it (again) and was like, GET OFF! In matches I always try to calm down. Besides that — unless bugs attack me, I’m quiet.

Probably safe to say you won that war with the bug, if you took the racket to it.
I don’t think it died. It just fell down and then it flew away. I didn’t kill it. I don’t kill bugs. (Laughs)

I also heard you tried an odd serving technique at a match you play recently against Paoli.
I was winning the first set easily, like 6-1. She was mad. She was a player that, if you get in her head, she doesn’t play good. The second set she came back and kicked my butt; she won 2-6, I think. The third set I was down 1-5 and I thought, OK, I have to get in her head. And so I underhand served it, and she didn’t think you could do that, and she got really mad. But you can do it. She asked her coach, and I got the point and so she got mad. I went from 1-5 to (winning) 7-6.

You knew that rule better than she did, then. It is legal.
I asked my coach right before the (match); I don’t know why. I was just thinking about it, if you can do it in a match. And so I was like, OK ... I’ll try it. Nothing to lose.

Have you taught your teammates any German?
(Laughs) Yeah, I taught them a few cuss words.

Uh oh. Anything else?
Oh yeah, I taught them to say “I’m sorry” and “excuse me.”

Probably comes in handy to know those after you cuss. Have any of them used those bad words in a match when they’re mad? Can’t say those things in English, but in German, probably no one knows what that is.
I don’t think they do it, but when we practice, they use them. (Laughs)

Well, you’ve left your mark here, then, if nothing else. How much longer are you here?
Until June 27.

Any special plans the rest of the time you’re in America?
I think we’re going to St. Louis baseball games. I’m not a big, big fan of baseball, but I like to watch them with the family; it’s always fun to watch.

What do you miss most about Germany?
My family and my friends. I miss them a lot. Today I Skyped with my mom in school, and (teammate) Talia (Terwiske) got to meet her for a little bit. I think I miss her most, and my dad.

What will you miss most about America when you go back to Germany?
Tennis. And of course, my whole host family. And tennis, and all the friends I’ve made.

You’ll have some pretty good stories about tennis to go back home with. Have you told your mom and dad about that yet?
Yeah, I talk a lot with them about it, because we don’t have sectional or anything (back home), so it was pretty exciting for me to win it with the girls. It was really exciting.

I know you guys got Dairy Queen after winning the sectional. Do anything else special to celebrate after that?
No. We sang a lot, though, on the way home. Singing is our thing, I think. We’re pretty good.

What tunes were you busting out?
“All I Do Is Win” and “Titanium.” Those are our songs.

That first one’s appropriate after winning the sectional. That was a pretty big deal for your team, since you hadn’t done for so many years. Did you comprehend how big that was for the team and for the school?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty exciting. I’m excited about it. I still am.

Interview by Brendan Perkins




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