It was May 2015 when Sandra Karsten first found out that Hofstra University women’s basketball head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey had a tremendous interest in recruiting her.
Karsten had been to the United States from Finland just one time before.
Hesitant at first, Karsten knew that one trip to the States was nothing compared to the possibility of playing on a Division I college basketball team in New York.
After several exchanged text messages back and forth to get to know each other, Kilburn-Steveskey asked Karsten if she knew of another player who was taller and bigger.
Karsten enthusiastically responded: “Yes, Marianne [Kalin]!”
Karsten and Kalin met on the Finnish Junior National Team. They’re the same age and played in a league that was extremely competitive.
Since then, the two became close friends and have been together to make the transition from Finland to the United States almost seamless.
“Of course, everything is new,” Kalin said. “But we’ve known each other from before. It’s been smooth – not too hard.”
With the Finnish National Team, the two players traveled around the country to play basketball.
They were away from their families a lot but their respective support systems watched many games.
It was a challenge for Karsten and Kalin to live without their families for weeks at a time, but they pulled through strong.
“You have good days and bad days,” Karsten said. “It helps having [Marianne] here.”
On Dec. 16, 2015, the Hofstra Pride announced they had signed Karsten to a national letter of intent.
Once Kalin talked with Kilburn-Steveskey – and after several months of thinking – she committed on May 19, 2016 to Hofstra with her friend for the upcoming season.
“[Karsten] is a dynamic guard with a great work ethic and competitive spirit,” Kilburn-Steveskey said in a statement. “[Kalin] is a multi-dimensional forward and is a quality addition to our team and Hofstra community.”
The two were thrilled for the opportunity, but knew they’d miss their family.
“At first I was denying every time I was asked: ‘do you miss your family,’” Kalin said. “’No, I’m fine,’ I’d say, but of course we do.”
The Finnish freshmen wouldn’t be on this stage without their parents.
The two received endless support through the years and both come from a family pedigree built on sports.
Kalin’s mother played basketball and her father played volleyball.
Karsten’s family played sports as well, and she loved basketball, tennis, gymnastics and dancing since she was a young girl in Helsinki, Finland.
Though almost a world apart, they still feel the support from miles away.
It’s the same support Karsten said she’s received from her mother since she was little.
“My parents were just here – it was nice to see them,” Kalin said. “[Karsten’s] family is coming soon.”
Their families have been treated to a thrilling start to the season watching their stars perform well.
Together they’ve teamed up to defeat talented programs like Stony Brook and UC Davis, and are showing better depth scoring than last season’s 25-win team.
“We are a lot different than last year and we got international [players] so we all play a little bit different,” Kalin said. “We are getting more familiar with each other. We’re getting better all the time.”
The Finns have an advantage that other student-athletes around the CAA cannot say they have.
The style of play Kilburn-Steveskey desires – fast paced and pushing the tempo on both sides of the court – suits them perfectly.
It resembles basketball in Europe, something Karsten and Kalin are very familiar with.
“We like to run the court a lot and play defense,” Kalin said. “We run more [in Europe], the game is quicker.”
As for going back to Europe once they graduate, the two agreed that while they wouldn’t rule anything out, it was too early to say.
“We’ll see. We have some time,” Kalin said with a laugh.
The women’s basketball season is still young and both Karsten and Kalin know a lot of work remains ahead, but they couldn’t help but express their excitement about the future.
“We are all friends,” Karsten said.
“Everybody can do anything. We all get along,” Kalin said. “That’s the most important and best part of the team.”