Getting Back into the Swing of Things

Ryan Thomas

In college, and especially at schools like UMass Boston, athletes come and go, transferring in and out, going to and fro. In 2007, a tall, lean tennis standout spent her senior year swatting forehands and ripping backhands as the Lady Beacons’ best player. Her name was Aurora Lormeus.

Her tenure at UMass Boston was short. She played on The Peninsula for one season only, but left her mark on the team. She is sill talked about, laughed about, and reminisced on a regular basis by her former teammates.

As soon as one talented, influential player leaves, however, another just seems to appear, as if summoned by the tennis Gods to help lead the Lady Beacons once again. Last season, it was Lormeus; this season, it is Carolina Gonzalez, an athletic young woman with bronze skin and a bright smile.

Gonzalez’s path is much different from Lormeus’s. Aurora, a tennis junkie, had been playing competitively since age seven, never taking time off from tennis for anything. Carolina, on the other hand, had a detour or two along the way.

After picking up tennis as a sophomore at Bridgewater-Raynham High School, Gonzalez quickly became her team’s captain and fell in love with the sport. Once college started, she had to choose between playing tennis at the University of Rhode Island (a division I school) or concentrating on her Biomedical Engineering degree. The degree took precedence, and tennis was put to the back burner.

After spending a year and a half at URI, Gonzalez transferred to Bridgewater State College, eventually staying only one semester. There, she practiced with the tennis team, but never officially played any matches with them. Next on Gonzalez’s college tour was UMass Boston, a place where she would once again find her passion for tennis.

“I came in here thinking ‘I’m just gonna do the best I can, and just get a top spot on the team,” Gonzalez said, referring to her expectations before the season started. “‘But if I don’t, whatever.'”

When UMass Boston’s first match of the 2008 season rolled around, Gonzalez didn’t have any concerns about “whatevers” or hopes of earning a top spot. She was the top spot.

In the team’s season-opening match, Gonzalez was on the first flight, which is comparable to the number-one starter on a baseball team. She faced Newbury College’s Jillian Wojtowicz and beat her in three sets, 2-6, 6-4, 6-0. She had officially started her UMass Boston career on a high note, and Eric Berg, her head coach, knew why.

“She’s very competitive, she’s very energetic; a competitive personality,” he explained, referring to her athletic ability and make-up. And when it came to her ability on the court, Berg said “She’s very strong from the baseline and [she] hustles, and she definitely has ability from the net as well.”

Lauren O’Connor, a senior with a year of collegiate tennis under her belt, saw some of the same things Berg did. “She plays really well up at the net, she has a good shot,” O’Connor said. “I can’t aim for anything, but she knows exactly where to put it. She has good placement.”

After winning her first singles match, Gonzalez followed it up with a 9-7 win in doubles with her new partner in crime, Emily Johnson.

But two days later, Gonzalez faced Western Connecticut State College’s first flight tennis star Justine Perna. Perna, a transfer from Mount Saint Mary College in New York, had Gonzalez’s number that day, beating her soundly, 6-3, 6-0.

“Carolina’s opponent (Justine Perna) was tough,” admitted Berg. “She went to the net a lot, which you don’t see a lot in singles in women’s tennis, so I think that was something she had to adjust to.”

Adjustments will be a part of Carolina’s game, at least in the early parts of this season. Having neither played competitive tennis since high school nor played in college, Gonzalez may have been overwhelmed. She won’t let the loss deter her, though.

“I was definitely up with her for most of it, but I just couldn’t push the final point to finish it,” Gonzalez said about her battle with Perna. “But it was good. I learned a lot.

“I think I’m gonna learn a lot playing [against] good players like that. I’m gonna take advantage of that… and just learn what I can from people who are better than me.”

It will probably take Carolina a few more matches to get fully comfortable with the college game, but once she does, her combination of confidence and a willingness to improve will give her a very good shot of dethroning almost anyone.

“Hopefully there’ll be a re-match [with Justine Perna] someday, ’cause I think I can take her,” Gonzalez said, her bright smile confidently gleaming. “I just need to play a little smarter.”

Ryan Thomas can be reached at [email protected]