Before I left for my senior year in the US as a student-athlete, there was a movie was playing in my head. I kept having flashbacks to my first memories in college. I saw myself as a freshman, following the footsteps and learning from the senior on the team. Most of the time I did not know where the journey was taking me, but I was always seeking the highest potential I could reach. By senior year, I would discover how the roles would reverse and how your job as a teammate transitions.
College always brings you many surprises and the challenges you face are always changing. I was sure that my last year would be special. It would be the year where I graduated and would start my career on the professional circuit. Creating a platform to prepare me to overcome any obstacles in this new stage of my life was the goal.
“Are you excited or upset to be done with college?” – was a question I was constantly being asked. To be honest, I always responded that I was looking forward to the new challenges waiting for me after graduation. That being said, the experience that taught me the most in life to date, was coming to almost over. I always tried to keep the mindset that it was not the end, but the beginning of a new cycle.
Sometimes the word experience may be vague because it does not present a specific moment or journey. However, an experience is the word that best represents the true essence of human life. I learned the deeper meaning of this word during my senior year.
Experience is not about age, but about having a vision as if you had different ages. Experience is knowing that everything has a purpose and trusting that. Experience is having the ability to turn suffering and doubts into certainties and happiness.
We started the season in Melbourne, Australia. We were selected to play against the University of Southern California at the Australian Open. It was going to be the first time that college tennis would be represented beyond the United States. A historic trip for both teams and all the people and organizations involved in the development of student athletes.
Sometimes things do not always go the way you want them to. Unfortunately, on the second day of practice, a pain that I had been feeling in my shoulder began to worsen. A decision was made by the medical team not to play in order to get healthy for the rest of the season. We ended up losing the match, but knew it was just the beginning. As sad as I was that I was not able to help the team inside those blue courts at the Australian Open, I continued to have positive thoughts that I would be back in my favorite place, the tennis court, soon.
After the Australian Open, my team and I were very excited to start the season despite the 38-hour trip home. The Australian Open taught us a lot. We had the opportunity to experience and see up close the routine of the professionals and watch top-level tennis all week. Personally, I had the pleasure to meet with the greatest in history and the tennis player that always inspired me, as well as my sister from another mother.
Every year, the SEC conference (Southeastern Conference) always requires a lot of effort and mental strength. We don’t have much free time and we are required to reach our maximum level of effort on the court and in the classrooms. The workload increases when you are senior. You feel the responsibility of the team’s culture in your hands. The role of leading a team with a chance to turn a seed into a flower, is the most significant part. I was fortunate to have two teammates – who were also in their senior year by my side on the same mission as me — to leave a legacy at the University of South Carolina.
We were crowned champions of the SEC tournament for the first time in the history of the University. The day before the final, I woke up at dawn with the dream that we had already won and we were all very happy celebrating with the famous “Champions” cap in our heads. But seconds later I realized that we had not even played yet and I would have to go to bed again and wait for a few more hours to get ready for the final.
It was a battle against the University of Georgia, who was #1 in the rankings at the time. We start by losing the doubles point. After that, we needed to bounce back and get ready for the singles matches because the fight was far from over. In singles, all the matches were close. We were playing with heart from the first point. At some point, the match was tied and would depend on me to determine which team would raise the trophy. I was 4-2 down in the third set and I thought, “There is only one happy ending, make your dream come true.” I closed the third set out at 6-4 and fell on the court with joy. All I wanted was to just freeze that moment after the match point when I saw everyone celebrating, fulfilled and happy. I felt a relief when I saw that finally the dream was a reality. By sharing this victory with my second family, it made me even more certain that I would trade any individual title or prize if it meant climbing on the highest podium with my team.
In the NCAA’s we qualified for the Elite 8 for the first time in history. After that, it didn’t go as we expected or wanted it to. But everyone fought as hard as they could and that made everyone proud. In the end we didn’t carry any regrets, only the sadness that our chapter would end, but with the certainty that the University of South Carolina reached a new threshold.
The senior year was a year that I realized even more that life is to be lived in as a “team” and that helping others is one of the greatest sources of energy. None of this would’ve happen without the support of my family who has always supported me from Brazil, since the day they saw that tennis was my life at a young age. The support of my teammates who have always been by my side, of my coaches and mentors who opened the doors for me and taught me not only skills inside the court but outside of them as well. And of all the people involved in the operations of the University of South Carolina, the people who welcomed me from day one and guided me so that I could go on to live the best moments of my life.
And of course, all the people who follow me and motivate me to continue writing here and helping the lives of other future dreamers. My college career has ended but a new cycle begins. The professional circuit is next and right around the corner. New content and adventures are coming 😉
“Titles. That’s doesn’t drive me.What drives me is continuing to learn.” -Kobe Bryant