They come from separate continents, different countries, eat different things, and speak different languages. But they have one thing in common, their game.
Both play tennis and are the Cougars number one doubles duo that according to head coach Jim Osborne, "could be the first All-American doubles team we've had at BYU for several years."
"We've had teams get close before, but these two guys have all the power, skill and personality to make it," says Osborne.
The two are Gert Vilms, a 6-3, 190, junior from Tallin, Estonia and Carlos Lozano, "Panda," a 6-2, 200, sophomore from Mexico City, Mexico.
"Both are big guys with good hands and quick reflexes. They both volley particularly well, and when one gets an exceptional volley, that's when their opponents say, huh, how did that happen," adds Cougar Coach Jim Osborne.
Their stories are somewhat similar, both started playing at an early age. Gert at age seven, because his father had a friend who was a tennis coach at a local club in Tallin.
Carlos, "Panda" (as he likes to be called), found a racket at home, got curious about it and started playing at the beginning level when he was nine, eventually moving up and competing in national tournaments in Mexico City.
Friends and former athletes got both of them interested in coming to play for BYU. Gert was friends with two track and field athletes who were attending BYU. They told the late BYU athletic trainer, Ollie Julkunen from Finland, about him. Ollie then talked to coach Osborne about Gert. The coach went to Finland to see him compete in a tournament. After watching him play, he offered Gert a scholarship. Without any hesitation, Gert said "yes" and did not consider or look at another university.
"I was always planning to come to study and play in the United States. It was so much easier for me to come to a place where I had friends because they helped me, told me what to do, and where to go. It was an easy adjustment for me," says Gert.
For Panda, one of his closest friends was Manuel Calvo, a former BYU tennis standout from Mexico City. They both practiced together and had been coached by the same person. Panda wanted to come to a good university with good standards and a good education. One visit to BYU was all it took. He did make one trip to Texas Tech, and even though they offered him more money, he told them no way, there was no comparison.
Now in his fourth semester at BYU he has no regrets.
"The people here are great, the LDS guys are nice, they show you around, the coaches are great and I love playing tennis with my teammates. I have so much fun and I'm learning and getting an education, so it's great," comments Panda.
Even though both had studied the English language in their respective countries, they say it has been an adjustment. Perhaps more so for Gert than for Panda.
"I had studied English at school, but it was still hard to communicate and understand everything in my classes" Panda said. "For me, going to all the classes in English and having to read all the chapters in books was very difficult," says Gert.
Panda had to adjust to a couple of other things. "Living on your own, making sure that you're responsible and are doing what you're suppose to be doing was very difficult for me. I was used to having my parents take care of everything," says Panda. "And I miss the food, especially my mother's cooking." Gert didn't have any adjustments with food. "I eat everything, food is not a problem for me."
Both are enjoying their college experience in the United States, despite being thousands and thousands of miles from home and their families. Gert has one older sister back in Tallin, the capital city of Estonia with a population of about half a million. Panda has three older brothers who live in the capital city of near 14 million people.
"I enjoy playing tennis because it is so much fun, competing with other schools, playing in tournaments, making new friends with other tennis players and getting a chance to see some of the other states," comments Gert.
"I have improved so much. The coaches have helped me a lot. I enjoy playing with my teammates. Being here has made me a better person and player," adds Panda.
Their collegiate experience to date has included many highlights, perhaps a few more for Gert who's in his junior year of eligibility. Last year he teamed up with senior Damien Ward from Australia at the number one doubles spot, to become one of the strongest doubles teams in the nation. The duo ended the season with a 32-12 record, including a 6-6 finish against nationally-ranked doubles teams. That record earned them a berth in the NCAA doubles championships in Athens, Georgia. The NCAA appearance was the second in two years for Ward. He had teamed with Calvo to participate in the 1999 NCAA championships.
Gert is hoping for his second straight appearance at the NCAA tournament this year as well. And with a 11-2 record, he and Panda are heading right in that direction. The duo was ranked 23rd nationally at the end of the Fall season and just recently defeated the 45th ranked number one doubles team from UCLA 8-6. In singles action, the two are doing well also with Panda being ranked 73rd and Gert 81st nationally.
"What makes these guys good is that they get along well, they've got a good sense of humor and they help each other out especially when one of them happens to be down," says Coach Osborne.
Panda was recruited by coach Osborne because of his doubles play. He had a high ranking coming in from Mexico. "We knew we would need someone to fill the spot when Damien Ward graduated, and I think Panda has done a great job for us."
"Both came in with different styles of play. The European style that Gert played is more of a base play, staying back. What we've done is make him more aggressive," added the coach. "The Mexican style is more flashy, played in dramatic fashion. What we've tried to do is made Panda less aggressive and in turn, I think we're making both better."
The duo, who are also roommates, enjoy playing together and really complement each other. "We just play solid tennis and we're just a team that's hard to beat," says Panda. "We have a good return," says Gert, "and we really don't have any weaknesses."
As far as after college, both would like to play professionally for a time and then work. But while at BYU, they plan to enjoy their experience, learn and get better. They give credit to their coaches and facilities for their great experience.
"We enjoy being on the team, learning from the best coaches. They are former players who know what they're doing. And the great facilities that we have here, the way the athletic staff takes care of us athletes and the people, everything is just the best."
Gert and Panda would recommend the university to others and are extremely thankful and grateful for their time in the United States doing what they do best, playing tennis.
They may be from different continents, countries and speak different languages, but it's tennis that brought them together and tennis is what's made them friends and continues to make them better.