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A first-time athlete shines bright on tennis team

Sara Garcia, a tennis team member with a surprising athletic story, has been awarded the athletic department’s title of Cyclone of the Week.

Even though 33-year-old Sara Garcia had never been on a sports team before, her coaches and teammates have been impressed by her swift ability to learn and her positive attitude.

Tennis coach Tony Canedo said that he saw potential in Garcia from the tennis P.E. class and invited her to try out for the team. He said that the few months she has been playing have shown a distinct growth in her abilities.

“It’s been incredible, actually,” Canedo said. Between tennis practice and the PE class, she’s getting 13 hours of tennis a week. It’s gone up pretty quickly and dramatically.”

Canedo explained that tennis is a skill sport that can be taught. That means that even those without previous tennis experience or those without a background playing sports can still become skilled players.

“It’s the intangibles that we look for as coaches: weight transfer, how perceptive is she on the court, whether or not she has the movements down,” Canedo said. “All the athletic abilities were there [in Garcia].”

Canedo said that Garcia’s resilience despite her lack of experience, seen in her very first singles game, is why he nominated her for Cyclone of the Week.

“Sara, in her first ever NCAA event, got put on what we would call the ‘show court’ or the ‘stadium court,’” Candeo said. “So there she had to play in front of everyone, and it was senior day for the opposing team, so they had all the parents and friends there.”Considering the nervousness of one’s first game with the additional pressure to perform for a huge audience, both coach and teammates said that Garcia’s performance deserves praise.

“I think she held herself very, very well,” Canedo said. “It’s a pretty incredible start for that to be her first match ever. There were so many things for her to overcome, but she just trusted in the work she had been doing.”

Team captain Grace Deaton reflected this thought, saying that Garcia “got through it and was a trooper, and she did solid for it being her very first game.”

Deaton said that Garcia’s work ethic is inspiring for herself and the rest of the team.

“Her serve has gotten a lot better,” Deaton said. “She would go into her room and toss the ball up and down until she finally got it right. So her serves have been improving a lot, which is something she cared about a lot.”

Beyond tennis ability, Deaton said that Garcia’s sunny personality is valued both on and off the court.

“She’s really supportive of everyone on the team,” Deaton said. “She brings morale up and she’s always really positive.”

Looking back on that first singles game, Garcia said “I was shaking… but I always had a smile.”

She said that a similar scenario occurred at the second match she played, but this time she wasn’t as intimidated and went onto the court with more confidence and a positive attitude.

“I just have to try my best,” Garcia said.

Garcia said that playing on the tennis team has helped with both her homesickness and her mental health.

“You go out there and let all [the stress] go away for just a second, and you’re in a whole different world,” Garcia said. “It has helped with my anxiety as well.”

She says that her teammates inspire and motivate her to improve her game, and that the “tennis family” helped her to fit into the Mills community.

Garcia is a first-generation college student who transferred to Mills this fall from Mission College in San Jose, where she had lived all her life. She began higher education in her twenties after working straight out of high school.

It was actually the high school students she worked with that inspired Garcia to go back to school.

“I was helping them go to college, and I started thinking, ‘Well, why don’t I go back to school as well?’” Garcia said.

Garcia likened playing sports to her experience with school.

“It’s just like education: if you stop learning, it does go away, but if you come back and keep at it, doors open,” Garcia said.

She said she used to think that she could never be on a team or play sports, but her experience at Mills has shown her otherwise.

“I’m really grateful that Tony gave me this opportunity,” Garcia said. “I used to think that sports were only for people who’ve been playing since they were young, but I think Mills gives a great opportunity for people who just want to be on a team and in sports and just try.”

She is looking forward to future achievements instead of being dragged down by past insecurities.

To Garcia, being on the team is about more than just playing some tennis. To this unconventional athlete, it is “to prove that anybody can do it.”