Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — This spring, Lake Superior State men's tennis experienced a resurgence on the court as the Lakers went 4-4 in conference play and qualified for the GLIAC Tournament for the first time since 2009-10.
Senior captain Luis Valderrama was a key member of the team as the Lakers made their way back into the GLIAC Tournament. In the Lakers' 5-2 home win over Ashland, which clinched the Lakers a spot in the playoffs, Valderrama won 6-1, 6-4 in the No. 4 singles match. Earlier in the season when Lake Superior State defeated Grand Valley State (4-3) – LSSU's first win over GVSU since March 21, 2010 – Valderrama and sophomore Diego Penz won the No. 2 doubles match 6-4 to help LSSU secure the doubles point that was vital to winning the team match.
Over four years ago, Valderrama, a native of Madrid, Spain, was first drawn to attending college in the United States because it would provide him the opportunity to continue playing tennis. Attending university in his native Spain meant he would need to give up tennis, as intercollegiate athletics is considerably different than in the U.S.
"In Spain, universities do not have sports teams like here, and if I wanted to go to a university I would have to stop competing in tennis," he said. "I knew about the importance of sports in the United States, and about the competitiveness of intercollegiate athletics, so that was a great incentive to come to the United States. Coming to the United States also allowed me to learn English and to have a great life experience, while getting a college degree."
As for why he chose Lake Superior State, he had the opportunity to attend the same school as his sister Laura, who was a member of the women's tennis team from 2014 to 2018.
Valderrama, who majored in mechanical engineering, was led towards the major thanks to a lifelong interest in math and sciences.
"Since I was a kid I, have always enjoyed math and sciences like physics," he remarked, "and mechanical engineering combines those subjects."
In addition to having a strong understanding of math (up through differential equations), prospective engineering students must also take one semester of general chemistry and a full year of physics. He also earned a minor in math.
Now that he has graduated, Valderrama is going to attend graduate school.
"I am planning on going to the University of North Florida to get a master's degree in civil engineering," Valderrama said.
Engineering is a discipline that sees real world application of math and the physical sciences, which is one of the main draws for Valderrama.
"Mechanical Engineering, and engineering in general, gives you the possibility to solve problems for people using your knowledge and creativity, combining everything you have learned before, said Valderrama. "I like it because it is challenging, and if you work for it, it is very satisfying."
Growing up, Valderrama played a variety of sports, before narrowing in on tennis.
"I started playing tennis when I was four. I used to play other sports, including soccer, volleyball, swimming and cross country, but tennis was my favorite sport, so I started dedicating most of my time to tennis when I was around eight years old."
Tennis has been a family affair. In addition his sister Laura, both of his parents and his younger brother are avid players.
"My dad started playing when he was 12 years old, and he has not stopped playing since," said Valderrama. "My mom started playing tennis when she met my dad, and now it is a family thing. Even my five-year old brother has already played tennis for two years."
Both the men's and women's teams at Lake State have a strong international makeup. Although the men's team has not always been like that, Valderrama said it was helpful in making the adjustment to college life in North America.
"They understand what you are going through and they also went through a similar situation," he said about the benefit of having other international teammates. "However, there were only two international students on the team my freshman year and I still had great teammates that helped me adjust to college life in the U.S. In the end, we all are on the same team and we all try to help each other."
While Valderrama had many memorable moments at Lake Superior State, one that he remembers most is a doubles victory from his sophomore season.
"The match that stands out is when Jake Prime, my doubles partner at the time, and I got a win against Grand Valley State against a doubles pairing that was ranked eighth in the nation, reminisced Valderrama. "That day, the atmosphere in the Arbuckle Student Activity Center was great and it was a huge win for us."
This past season, Valderrama and the rest of the LSSU men's tennis team achieved their goal of making it back to the GLIAC Tournament. The men's team followed in the footsteps of the women's team, which competed in the conference tournament in the fall. Both teams earned sixth-place finishes and are set up to succeed moving forward.
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