Athlete Sensed Something Special About MATC From Across the Atlantic

This fall, German native became the first international player on women’s volleyball team

Mark Feldmann,

November 22, 2023

Alina Lemke

For me, it was more important to feel good about teammates and the coaches than to worry about what the place would be like.

Alina Lemke MATC student and women's volleyball player

Alina Lemke felt the magic of Milwaukee from thousands of miles away.

On a computer in her house in a small town in Germany, nearly 4,300 miles away from Wisconsin, the 17-year-old Lemke virtually toured Milwaukee Area Technical College, chatted with several MATC students, and met Shel DeLisle, the head coach of the college’s women’s volleyball team.

By the end of the call, Lemke committed to coming to a place she never set foot in.

“I had never even heard of the city of Milwaukee,” Lemke admitted. “But during my Zoom tour, I could tell how invested coach Shel and the players were into the team. For me, it was more important to feel good about teammates and the coaches than to worry about what the place would be like.”

So in late July, Lemke left her hometown of Ettlingen, Germany, located on the northern edge of Germany’s Black Forest, arrived by herself at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and became the first international player on the women’s volleyball team.

One of the team’s assistant coaches picked up Lemke and brought her to Milwaukee. Lemke spent the night sleeping on an air mattress at MATC’s Westown Green housing complex. 

“I had finished high school only three weeks before I left,” Lemke said. “Everything happened so fast. I really didn’t have much time to think about everything.”

DeLisle saw video of Lemke playing at her German sports club through a digital recruiting platform that connects players to potential schools and coaches with potential recruits. The platform allows athletes to select the type, size and location of schools they’d prefer to attend and areas of studies they’d like to pursue. Once the choices are narrowed down, coaches receive emails about players.  

“With these platforms, players can display their talents to coaches all over the world,” DeLisle said. 

DeLisle then connected with Lemke and set up the virtual tour. “Everybody seemed extremely nice,” Lemke said. “I also liked that MATC is located in a city, and the student housing seemed to be better than a lot of other colleges I looked at. You can get a lot more out of sports here than you can in Europe.”

After Lemke agreed to come to MATC, DeLisle went to work. “We met with our International Student Services to get the ball rolling,” she said. “Things can take a while, with translating transcripts and making sure that she has the proper proficiency in English. It’s quite the process.” 

MATC has more than 100 international students attending classes this semester, said Karla E. Huerta, the college’s international student advisor. There are usually between 60 and 80 international students each semester, she said, and they represent nearly 40 countries, including numerous European nations.

Lemke had traveled to the United States before, spending family vacations in New York City, Florida and several national parks between Denver and Seattle. But coming here for school was something different.

“She’s a brave young woman,” DeLisle said. “She has a composure and maturity that is unusual for a first-year player. She didn’t seem to have any anxiety.”

At the team’s first practices, Lemke was quiet and kept to herself — a far cry from the rest of the team.

“The team this year was very loud, and I suppose it could have been a bit overwhelming,” DeLisle said. “They are enthusiastic, they’re funny, they’re kind. I’m sure at first she was taken aback, but she fit right in very quickly.”

In Germany, Lemke’s sports club team had athletes of many ages and she always was among the youngest players. “I had teammates who were 20, 30 and 40 years old,” she said. “So playing with teammates my own age took some getting used to.”

At MATC she also switched positions and had to get used to a different style of ball. This fall she started 33 of the team’s 35 matches and finished with 50 kills and 116 digs. “As a player she doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” DeLisle said. “She has an incredible work ethic.”

With Lemke, the Stormers had a season to remember. A team that had won only nine matches between 2012 and 2016 had its first winning season ever, finishing 20-15. The Stormers hosted a National Junior College Athletic Association playoff match for the first time in at least two decades and made it to the NJCAA regional semifinals, losing to Madison College on November 4.

Read about 2023 MATC women's volleyball season

In the spring, Lemke will continue taking business management classes and, with more free time, will explore more of Milwaukee, a city with deep German roots. She’s living at Westown Green with several other volleyball players and is one of eight first-year players who could return next season.

“(MATC Athletic Director) Randy Casey has told me that with international players, it’s the second year that is the toughest,” DeLisle said. “They tend to get homesick and don’t come back. Well, the team is really happy that Alina is here. I’m happy she’s here.” 

And so far, Lemke’s happy here as well. “Right now, I’ll say yes to coming back next year,” she said. “I’m having a really good time here, I’m playing well, I really like the team and the coaches. I think I’m in a good spot here.”

Learn about MATC's International Student Services

ABOUT MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. Nearly 28,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.