Following a 2012 season that saw it finish 2-8, the Centreville girls tennis team knew it needed a talented newcomer or two if it hoped to turn into a contender by the time the 2013 season rolled around. A solid core of sophomores would be coming back for their junior seasons, but the Wildcats would likely need to add some strong freshmen to push them to the next level.
With the 2013 season now under way, Centreville looks like a more complete team, but they don’t have any freshman phenoms to thank. Instead, their improvement has come from the addition of another junior.
Carlota Perez-Carpio isn’t just some junior transfer from a nearby county school, though. She’s come to Clifton on a one-year scholarship from her home in Galicia, Spain, a pursuit aimed toward mastering English and absorbing a new culture.
Though she’s been playing competitive tennis year-round since age 11, Perez-Carpio admitted she was more than a little nervous when tennis tryouts arrived at Centreville this spring. She had heard making the varsity squad was a difficult task, and she wanted to prove herself in front of unfamiliar faces.
Yet any trace of uncertainty from onlooking coaches was cast aside the moment they saw their foreign arrival swing a tennis racket.
“I really didn’t know what to think, but as soon as I saw her hit I knew we had something special,” said Brooke Hargrove, one of three women coaching both the boys and girls tennis teams at Centreville. “We’re just really sad we only have her for one year.”
Perez-Carpio not only made the team, she was thrust into the No. 2 spot in the varsity lineup, sitting behind senior Jamie Schoshinski. Perez-Carpio and Schoshinski have joined forces to make a formidable doubles pairing this season, having already defeated Robinson’s top doubles unit, 10-3, in the season-opener for both teams on Tuesday. The Wildcats ended up losing the aggregate match, 6-3, even with singles victories from Perez-Carpio (10-7) and Schoshinski (10-8).
Yet that defeat was hardly a devastating blow, considering Centreville hasn’t beaten Robinson since 2007. At the very least it marked progress from what happened last year, when the Rams cruised to 8-1 and 9-0 wins in the two annual meetings between the schools.
The Wildcats still have plenty of time to jell before the postseason gets going in May. But that time frame isn’t ideal for Perez-Carpio, who originally imagined playing tennis for her new school throughout her stay here.
“I was so disappointed when I learned that I was only doing three months this season,” said Perez-Carpio, whose favorite tennis player is (of course) Rafael Nadal. “I thought it would be all year round. So when I knew I had to wait so long, I was kind of sad.”
None of that disappointment has rubbed off on her new coaches, who have been impressed by Perez-Carpio’s unrelenting persistence on the court and her amiable personality off it. Her aggressive style of play, highlighted by big wind-ups that produce velocity on her ground strokes, has encouraged teammates to hit harder and take more risks in their own matches.
“She’s got a great personality; she’s so vivacious,” said Leslie O’Connor, now in her ninth year coaching at Centreville. “She’s got that gung ho attitude that keeps her playing hard. Regardless of whether she is up or down, her level of play just goes up.”
Perez-Carpio wasn’t sure where she’d wind up when she applied for her study-abroad program, which randomly places Spanish students from her school all over the U.S. Her friends eventually ended up all over the place, some going to Texas, others Miami, Wyoming and Ohio. Though she admits initially dreaming of a more glorified place like California, Perez-Carpio says she’s been very pleased to be in Clifton, where she has been doing a home stay with the Gursahaney family since last August.
Instances of culture shock have arisen here and there, but Perez-Carpio — whose excellent grasp of English owes to taking English classes since first grade — was particularly surprised to find that her English wasn’t as good as she thought upon her arrival to the States.
“I thought I could speak English when I came, but I couldn’t,” Perez-Carpio said. “I thought it was better than it actually was. I find a lot of differences with the English from England because in Spain we study European English, so there’s a couple differences. But in the first month you figure it out and you’re fine.”
The local enthusiasm for high school sports has also been a surprise coming from Spain, where sports are more emphasized at club levels than they are at high schools and colleges.
“I love the spirit in the schools,” she said. “We don’t have that spirit [in schools] in Spain. I love how everybody plays sports. Everyone has the spirit wear and goes to football games. It’s a lot of fun.”
Perez-Carpio, who returns to Galicia June 23, hopes to one day attend college in the United States, although she would need a scholarship since college is significantly cheaper in Spain. Until then, she’ll try to enjoy her American high school experience as much as Centreville players are enjoying the presence of their new teammate.