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Serving up her best for Wildcats

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Daemen College athletics

Tennis is Western New York is just a little bit different then playing in San Diego, California. For one the weather after August is a little dicey in WNY. It can go from 80 degree to one day to 60 the next.

Also, most of the college season is played indoors, especially in the spring. If anyone has played tennis indoors they will tell you that the speed of the ball is faster than if you are playing on an outdoor court.

These were just a few things that Daemen College sophomore tennis player Frida Rubio had to endure during her freshman campaign. That and a pandemic that pushed the fall season into spring.

“Honestly, I had no idea how long it would take me to adjust. Especially going from playing only outdoors to playing in indoor courts,” stated Rubio. “The first time I went out to hit with my team, I completely missed the balls because of how much faster it bounces indoors. It took me about a week to adjust to indoor courts. But I don’t think I’ve adjusted to playing in 40 degree weather. That will always be hard for me to adjust to because in California, 60 degrees is already cold for me.”

It didn’t take Rubio long to adjust the WNY seasons, and that was a bad thing for other teams. Rubio came in to her freshman year and just dominated going 7-2 in singles. That is no easy feet for any tennis player who is playing college for the first time.

Rubio felt confident all season long - and didn’t look like a normal freshman. She was able to dictate a lot of the point on court - and that helped her get into the matches early.

“I think it was easy for me to come in with no “track record”. I wasn’t being judged from a previous season or anything really. I was able to come in and just play my game,” stated Rubio. “This helped me play more comfortably and little by little I gained confidence as the matches went by.”

It has been a long journey for Rubio has she has found her way to Western New York via San Diego, California. A gifted tennis player in her home state, the pandemic played havoc on the recruiting scene and offers weren’t coming in as she had hoped.

That led her to attend San Diego State University before finally committing to Daemen College. SDSU is one of the biggest universities in California, with more than 30,000 students. Rubio didn’t want to be just a number in school. She wanted to know her professors, and classmates.

When the opportunity arose to come to Buffalo, Rubio jumped at the chance.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was three years old and I wanted to play for my University for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, with COVID, a lot of my offers were taken off the table. Ultimately, I decided that my best option financially was to go to San Diego State and focus on my academics instead. However, I got really lucky with Coach Plote. He reached out in November of 2020 because on my recruiting website he saw I never committed to a school. Once we started talking, I realized he was serious about having me go and honestly I just took a leap of faith and hoped for the best. I ended up signing early January and was ready to go in February of 2021,” explained Rubio. “I think one of the main things that drew me to Daemen was the small student population. As I mentioned, I was at SDSU for my fall semester and this school is huge. They have over 30,000 students and I found myself attending zoom classes with over 200 students. I didn’t love the idea of barely knowing my professors and my classmates. This made it easier for me to commit to Daemen.”

As Rubio entered her second season wight he Wildcats, there was a different feel around the team. Gone was coach Plote and in was Richard Greco. Greco recently served as the varsity coach at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore, and before that was the junior varsity coach at Amherst High School.

In enthusiasm for tennis is already being felt on the women’s side as there is a different feel around the team so far.

“When I found out Coach Greco would be our new Coach I was very excited. I know his son, Sam Greco, very well and he is an awesome player and person. I knew Coach Greco would bring only good things to this team and so far that's how our pre-season has gone,” stated Rubio. “He is a team player in every situation and has really gotten all the girls motivated to work hard for our season. The way he coaches is very positive and motivating which has helped the girls become more of a team. Tennis is an individual sport so when it comes to the “team” aspect, sometimes we struggle but Coach Greco has worked with us a lot on this and I see so many positive improvements with the girls. I'm really excited to see what this season has in store for us as a team.”

As Rubio entered her second season with the Wildcats, she knew there were still things she needed to work on. Besides the on court game, which always needs improving, Rubio has always made sure she has worked on the off court game - or mental side of the sport.

Tennis is such a big mental sport that is can easily go around at a drop off a hat. Even the best players in the world sometimes have mental lapses on the court that can cost them a game or match.

Rubio wanted to make sure she continues to work on the aspect of her game. It doesn’t matter how much talent a player has if they can’t win the big points at the right time.

“Tennis is a huge mental sport and I have definitely been through rough patches mentally when playing. After so many years of training, matches, and tournaments I think I’ve gotten to a good point mentally with myself. In situations where I am nervous or down in a match I've learned to communicate positive things to myself. I know it is easy to be very negative when one makes a mistake or starts losing but I’ve realized that if I do this I’m not helping myself in any way,” explained Rubio. “These are the 3 things I always tell myself:

1) When I was younger my mom would always tell me to “go back to basics” if I’m having a bad day. This particular phrase has stuck with me because it reminds me to go back to the easy stuff that I’ve been doing for years before trying to play a “fancier” game.

2) Another thing I constantly tell myself if I have just lost a point is “I’m proud of you. Keep fighting.” This keeps me motivated and allows me to keep giving it my all. If I lose, but I gave it everything I had then there’s no reason to be angry at myself. All I can do is keep working hard for my next match.

3) Lastly, I always tell myself “One by one. It's not over til you shake their hand”. I think it’s easy to get carried away whether you’re winning or losing and this reminds me to never get comfortable. If I'm up during the match, I can't just assume that I am going to win so I remind myself that it's not over unless we have shaken hands. Not only this, but if I am losing then I continuously tell myself “one by one” because it allows me to forget about what just happened and focus on a single point at a time. Sometimes I need these reminders in order to not get ahead of myself.”

So, what goes through the mind of a tennis player before they get on court for their match?

Some players are loose and will joke around before the start of the match. Others are serious and just focused at the task at hand. Getting nervous before a match is a common thing. If you don’t have jitters before a match you might not be human.

It’s calming those jitters and just going out there and executing your game plan which is the most important thing.

“It's normal to start a match with jitters so before a match I try to take a couple deep breaths and remind myself that I've been doing this since I was 3 (this helps remind me that I know what I’m doing and this isn’t something completely new to me),” stated Rubio “I tend to talk to myself a lot in Spanish, I think this makes me feel more comfortable when playing. I try not to worry about their game because if I do it becomes easier for me to get lost in their game and not my own. I try to focus on doing what works for me and get them to my rhythm because this allows me to play more comfortably. As I previously mentioned, I focus on the positives and try to remind myself to enjoy the match. There's no reason to make myself more stressed and I guarantee that I’ll enjoy it more if I relax and play my game.”

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