Freshman tennis player faces unique adjustments

Sofia Santa Maria prepares to hit the ball at practice (photo courtesy of Sofia Santa Maria).
Sofia Santa Maria prepares to hit the ball at practice (photo courtesy of Sofia Santa Maria).
The transition for any student-athlete attending college for the first time is filled with a myriad of challenges ranging from life spent away from family to night classes.
For Mason women’s tennis player, Sofia Santa Maria, putting on a tennis jersey has been second nature for nearly her entire life. It’s the adjustment to the classroom after attending virtual high school that has been the most difficult part in her first six months at Mason.
Born in Columbia, Santa Maria experienced her first racket strokes at the age of two at a local country club. 
“When I was two years old, my parents were members of a country club back in Columbia and my dad has been playing tennis since he was about 12 years old, so as members he would take me there and he would always sit me in the corner with my little racket,” Santa Maria said. “Most kids would just play with their toys, but I would kind of start swinging with the racket sometimes and my parents saw that I had a desire. 
“So they said ‘Do you want to try tennis out?’ and I’m like ‘Sure.’ So ever since I was three I’ve been hitting balls and never changed sports.” 
Just two years later, though, a budding dream was nearly nipped by a family move to Puerto Rico. 
“We moved to Puerto Rico because of my dad’s job, but tennis was in the limbo,” Santa Maria said. 
“I didn’t have my coach anymore, but where we started living there was tennis courts and there was also an academy, so I started taking private lessons with a coach and I started to get a hang of it. I started group lessons, private lessons and by the age of seven I started playing my first tournaments. I liked it and I had a really big passion for it.” 
It was at the academy where she began to excel, and at 10 years old, was competing in tournaments in the United States. While she had been a top player in her age bracket in Puerto Rico, her eyes were opened by the level of talent off Puerto Rican soil. 
“By the age of 10, I got invited to my first traveling tournament in Texas and I found like ‘Wow, I’m actually traveling for tennis’ and there’s where I knew I wanted to take it to a more competitive level,” Santa Maria said. “But it was horrible. I don’t even think I won a single match. I went with a group of six girls and six boys and we did horrible. We were like the level we are thinking of, living in a small bubble, is nothing to what’s out there.” 
Santa Maria rebounded from her stateside debut and continued to play in International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments with top talent across the globe. Along the way, she received sage advice from her colleagues about a unique method of advancing her career: online schooling. 
“By eighth grade, I went to Mexico for my first international tournament and for the first time, I was international and playing ITF and many kids did online school,” Santa Maria said. “I had never heard of this for tennis and they were like ‘It’s a very good combination, I have tennis, I get to do my schooling and I get to travel.’” 
She parlayed the idea to her parents, who initially rejected the idea of virtual education. But after showing how she could tackle tasks both on the tennis court and in the class in an effective manner, they heeded her requests. 
“In eighth grade, I started pushing my parents for it and I was like ‘I really want to get the best of both worlds,’” Santa Maria said. “They weren’t convinced about it yet because they said I was too young and not mature enough, so I did eighth and ninth grades and then 10th grade back home and then they said ‘Okay, your level is improving a lot in tennis and you’ve gained the responsibility now. You can do online school.’
“So for 11th grade, I moved to Florida doing online school, where I started at a tennis academy with a tennis coach, Miguel Tobon,”Santa Maria said.“There I was doing online school and it was a very big change. I no longer had teachers and I no longer had the set schedule with classes. I was pretty much traveling two weeks of the month for tennis tournaments and I was playing ITFs and you couldn’t really do it in the US. I was mostly traveling Central and South America and the Caribbean, so it was a great balance and I could take the school with me everywhere I was going.” 
Fast-forward to August 2013, her first week attending a class with chairs and whiteboards in nearly three years. Santa Maria admitted that it was a struggle calibrating her mind to hard due dates and recalled a conversation with her father about the transition. 
“I called my dad the first week of school here and was like ‘I don’t know what I got myself into. I have my test today and I think I crammed everything. I’m not used to not being able to look at my notes’ and he said ‘I think you’ll be fine,’” Santa Maria said. “Honestly, online school was the best decision for me.” 
Now in Fairfax, Santa Maria’s goals for the spring semester are simple: continue to excel in the classroom regardless of setting and be a key contributor on a squad comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores. 
“Right now I’m really focused on my academics and my goal is to stay in the solid three spots of the team.”
No votes yet
Student Media Group: