Women’s tennis player has traveled a long way

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The long journey of Silvia Gutierrez to the Northridge campus can be traced all the way back to her hometown of Mostoles, Spain, where she grew up and resided until 2003. Gutierrez developed into one of the most accomplished youth tennis players in Spain, accumulating several outstanding honors, including being the fifth-ranked player in her country for women 18 and under.

But as time went on and college rapidly approached, Gutierrez decided to make a life-altering decision by leaving her home country for the United States. This CSUN standout said there were two reasons she left Spain.

“I came to the U.S. about a year and a half ago to learn English and practice tennis while at the same time going to college,” Gutierrez said.

However, Gutierrez did not become a Matador immediately. In fact, when she left Spain for a U.S. college, she ended up playing tennis in the Atlantic Coast Conference, for the powerhouse Clemson Tigers.

As a freshman, the Spaniard helped the Tigers finish fifth in the nation by accomplishing a 3-2 record in doubles play. Her continued improvement at the game she loved was evident by her ability to break into the starting line-up as a freshman on an already talented team, and Gutierrez became an integral part of the ACC power.

Despite the level of success Gutierrez achieved in the early stages at Clemson, she decided the school wasn’t for her, and eventually found a home at CSUN. Her arrival last year to the Northridge program provided a boost not only in talent, but energy and intensity.

“Silvia loves to play tennis, and she loves to play hard,” Head Coach Gary Victor said. “She is probably the most passionate tennis player we have ever had at the school. She lives, eats, breathes tennis.”

Gutierrez is part of a Matador team with several young and talented players, which bodes well for the future success of the program. However, CSUN has struggled in the past month, suffering a prolonged losing streak and dropping the team’s overall record under the 500 mark. Gutierrez attributes the slide to the youth and inexperience of the team.

“We are very young, and when (the team is) young, the responsibility is heavy on each player, and that takes a toll,” Gutierrez said. “But I am confident we are going to improve, and I think we can win the conference with a late surge.”

The team’s slump has coincided with Gutierrez’ struggles in the past few weeks, as she has lost the last few matches at No. 1 singles. Gutierrez acknowledges she hasn’t played her best tennis of late.

“I am not playing well right now because I haven’t been consistent enough to beat the good players I have faced off against,” Gutierrez said.

However, the challenge of improving her on-the-court performance pales in comparison to the adjustments Gutierrez has had to make off the court. Learning a different culture and language has been the most difficult challenge for the sophomore biology major.

“The move to the United States has been very hard, and I am not accustomed to the culture yet,” Gutierrez said before one of CSUN’s practices.

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Gutierrez said adapting to American culture has been one of the most difficult challenges she has had to deal with. She points to this huge adjustment as one reason she has not played to her potential on the tennis court.

“I am struggling because I have not been able to integrate well, and the major reason is I miss my family so bad,” Gutierrez said. “It is difficult to concentrate fully when I am thinking about them all the time. That is why my level of play is down.”

With all the problems she is going through, she is relying more and more on her teammates and coaches to get more comfortable. Gutierrez said the relationship with the team keeps her upbeat and builds a type of family she misses back home in Spain.

Victor has definitely seen Gutierrez build strong relationships with the team. He said he believes these relationships have helped her on and off the court.

“She has adapted really nicely in the last couple of weeks,” Victor said. “She enjoys her teammates a lot more, even though we have not been winning. It appears she is having a great experience now, which is the most important thing for student athletes.”

Stories like Gutierrez have become all too familiar in women’s collegiate tennis, with international athletes participating in the sport at a rising rate. By a three-to-one margin, collegiate tennis has more foreign-born athletes than any other sport.

This fact alone makes recruiting players like Gutierrez more important than ever. “Seventy percent of the ranked players in the country are from out of the country, so we need to receive athletes like Silvia in order to be competitive,” Victor said.

On the current roster, seven of the 12 players were born and raised outside the country, which makes the roster one of the most diverse in the country.

One of Gutierrez’ teammates, freshman standout Cannu Furuta, who was born in the United States, said Silvia is helping the team co-exist and mold all the different nationalities into one-unit.

“(Gutierrez) is helping the team in so many different ways, especially being a team leader,” Furuta said. “She is a good role model, and everybody looks up to her.”

Gutierrez and company hope to build on team unity and translate it to the court for victories in the competitive Big West Conference. One victory has already occurred in the CSUN tennis family, and has not been recorded in the win-loss column.

Gutierrez’ ability to overcome all the adversity of the last two years and acclimate to a new country shows the fortitude and character of this Northridge student. Gutierrez said she is glad to be at CSUN and looks forward to being a continued part of the women’s tennis program.

“I enjoy everything about the school, including the weather, the people, and my teammates,” Gutierrez said.