Oct. 28, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Team chemistry is important for any athletics program. It becomes even more important for sports, such as tennis, in which student-athletes are coming together not only from different parts of the United States, but also, different parts of the world.
"Sometimes with the foreign players, the cultural gap is different and it takes them a while to buy-in," said South Carolina women's tennis coach Kevin Epley. "Once they're bought-in, it really actually helps with the chemistry having some diversity on the team and people of different backgrounds. When we're on the road, we may eat Indian or French (food). They realize there is more to life than `Big Macs.' It enhances the overall experience. It's good to see different perspectives."
"Everyone has a different culture," said senior Ximena Siles Luna. "I think that actually helps because we all have different thoughts and hobbies. It helps us learn different things about each other. It's a really good thing."
Luna, who is from Lima, Peru, knows all about the challenges of attending school in a different country, and she, along with her teammates, do their best to make the transition comfortable for newcomers, such as freshman Ingrid Gamarra Martins from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"In the beginning it was hard to adjust because of the language," Luna said of her freshman year. "There were many things. The food was different. I didn't have anyone here that I knew. We were all very good friends on the team. Practice got a lot more intense. I pushed myself a lot more than I used to before. I had to study more in school and have my priorities of school and tennis.
"It is really important to see someone older than you who had the same experience. I can show them (the freshmen) a lot. It's not always easy to adjust. With Ingrid, because she is from South America, I always want to be there for her if she needs anything. I told her it's not going to be easy. We need to practice hard. Problems will happen in the season, but you just have to enjoy everything."
Gamarra Martins is the final piece to what was ranked as the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation and tops in the SEC by TennisRecruiting.net in June. Epley said simply getting comfortable in new surroundings can have a direct effect on their game. That's where having someone like Luna can help out.
"Ximena knows the drill," Epley said. "She's been here a while, and she's been very helpful thus far. Culturally there are a lot of similarities. Ximena was really happy that Ingrid was going to be here. She knows how to get by, how to work and how to win. She is going to be majorly beneficial in the transition, particularly with Ingrid."
"It's a big challenge speaking a different language in school," Gamarra Martins said of her adjustment to college life. "The practice system is different here than in Brazil. I think I'm improving a lot, so I like it. I like the new apartments where we live too at 650 Lincoln. When I came, I was a little bit scared about the food. We eat very well in Brazil. I found some things here though. There are some new things here that I like; yogurt and blueberries."
Once they're bought-in, it really actually helps with the chemistry having some diversity on the team and people of different backgrounds ... It enhances the overall experience.
Although she grew up in Brazil, Gamarra Martins had known Ximena through the junior tennis circuit in South America, but she didn't need any extra push to consider coming to South Carolina.
"My coach back home, Ricardo Acioly, played at South Carolina," Gamarra Martins said. "He knows Kevin (Epley), so when I decided to go to college, he spoke to him about me. I visited here and I liked it. I like the mentality of the practices. I also knew (former men's tennis student-athlete) Thiago Pinheiro. He helped me on the tour when I visited. He took me to the Dodie (Academic Enrichment Center) and everywhere else. He translated for me, so that was a big help. He showed me where to live and where to eat."
Luna's transition was a success on the courts as well as the classroom as she has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in each of her three years at South Carolina and was named an ITA Scholar Athlete in 2015. She had the top dual match singles winning percentage on the team last spring after going 12-3 (80.0), and she won the clinching point in the NCAA first round versus Princeton in a three set singles victory at the No. 5 spot. As a rookie in 2012-2013, she was the only true freshman on the team to break into the Gamecocks' lineup.
"We have everything we need to be good here," Luna said. "We have good facilities and a place for rehab. We have the coaches, and a great place to study at the Dodie. Everything is close. I know that is something I am going to miss when I graduate."
As she settles in to her freshman year, Gamarra Martins looks forward to sharing her culture with her teammates, while also embracing all that college life has to offer.
"I would like to teach them about surfing," Gamarra Martins said. "There are some (teammates) from California, so I think they might surf too. I'm very excited to go to a football game, and I'm really excited to play in tournaments and cheer for the other girls. I want to just play and do my best"
Luna, who is pre-med and studying public health, looks forward to graduating this year, but not before helping to take the Gamecocks to the next level.
"First of all I want to graduate," Luna said. "I have very high standards for our team. I really want to do my best this year since it's my last year. We really want to get back into the NCAAs and get to the Sweet 16."
The Gamecocks return six members of last year's squad which finished with No. 29 national ranking following its 21st-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. With a strong recruiting class, Epley is excited about the future of the program.
"Ingrid is so talented and so strong," Epley said. "We kind of have to rein her game in and calm her a down a little bit. It's just going to be matter of how quickly she negotiates these changes. A lot of that has to do with how quickly the freshmen adjust to the culture."
"Ximena had our highest win percentage last year. At one point, she won ten matches in a row. She's a senior and very experienced. We've got talent, there's no question."
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