In December, after school, we have the option to return home to spend Christmas and New Year. In the period between the Fall and the Spring, the vacation time is shorter, in January we must be back and prepared for the season because it starts at full steam.
With my first Fall and time at home completed, it’s time to start the Spring, the tennis season in college, where we play the whole semester in the team format implemented by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and also the season that we play the conference tournament (Southeastern Conference-SEC) and the NCCA tournament. The format of play in Division I is: 6 singles and 3 doubles matches. The match ups always start with doubles first and then whoever gets the first two doubles wins gets 1 point on the scoreboard. After we finish doubles, we have 5 minutes to prepare for the singles match where 6 girls on the team play at the same time against their respective opponents for a point. The team that reaches 4 points first, wins.
Tennis is an individual sport and before I came to the USA, I haven’t experienced a lot of team events playing tennis. But the few moments that I had the opportunity to be part of a team were unforgettable. I think everyone who played Junior World Cup, Fed Cup or Davis Cup does not regret it. In my opinion, if we could, we would play those team events more often. Experiencing the team spirit and being able to share the joy of a victory was the part that I was most excited about when I knew that I would be part of a tennis team at an American university.
Time to go to the first tournament of the season at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. It was not part of the conference matches yet, but for my team and me all the matches were important because we were not highly ranked, but we were aiming to be. Our team has always been known to have a unified front. We were not players who were top juniors, but we had a group of girls who worked hard and were willing to fight for each point for the team.
The most desired moment and at the same time, the most feared, is when all other matches are over, and you are still playing. This means that your match will decide if your team will win or lose. If you’ve never been there before, it’s a different feeling when you realize that you will decide the destiny of your team. I was playing and suddenly I started to hear a lot of noise. I was in the third set, in the last match on court. When I realized what was happening, the nerves hit me. But then the energy went up and I was excited by the opportunity to be able to get the win for the team. At the end, it ended up going on my way. We won, and we celebrated the victory with the whole team. After that day, I wanted to have many more days like that and be able to feel all the energy and team spirit.
Video by Hannah Templeton
In the Spring, it was when I saw what it was like to play for a team. We spent a lot of time together, from practices and matches to theater classes. Getting to know your teammates is very important because each one has a different characteristic and we must be able to deal with all of them. Sometimes it is a difficult task, especially when you are not used to it or do not know them very well. One of the things that can make a difference over the years is the bond that you have with your team. It is worth to invest time to get to know the team. If not, it would be as if you worked in an office where you don’t know anyone. The desire to go to work is not the same when you know the people around you. The idea that you had about a project may not be innovative if you have no one to support you.
One of the most memorable moments in my first year was when I won 7-5 in the third set after a “battle” in the deciding match against Kentucky. Not just for the win, but to be playing at home with all the energy of the fans and my team outside of the court. They did everything to support me. They were yelling my name, making a lot of noise and they did not give up even when I was losing. In the end, I fell on the floor relieved. The rest was just happiness. Check the video out, you’ll understand what I am talking about.
Video by Hannah Templeton
The season is long, and we play a lot of matches from January to May, but every day we learn something new. We have had very tough wins which made all the work we’d done since the first semester worth it. We achieved the highest ranking in the history of the university at the time and I was nominated for some conference awards that take place weekly and at the end of each season. Without the help of the team and effort from all the people involved in this process nothing would have been possible.
Looking back, I remember a lot of moments that will stay forever with me. Of course, in the first year nothing is perfect and when you finish, you want more. Being a student-athlete is like that. Moments of struggle and joy that teach us lessons for the rest of our lives.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” ― Michael Jordan