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25 March 2013

Passion for tennis fuels Canes’ rising star

Freshman Clementina Riobueno volleys the ball back aross the net in january's match against Hawaii. Zach Beeker // Contributing Photographer

FRESHMEN PHENOM: Clementina Riobueno, of Venezuela, is off to an impressive start in her first season. Her rankins has climbed to No. 104. Zach Beeker // Contributing Photographer

 

A typical week for the UM women’s tennis team begins at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center. The courts are drenched in blinding sunshine, but it’s nearly silent – the occasional sighs and grunts of hard-working players are the only sounds.

Eighteen-year-old Clementina Riobueno, like her teammates, is clad head to toe in orange and green. Even after three hours of practice, her piercing blue eyes are focused on the match at hand.  She’s facing off against one of her best friends, freshman Monique Albuquerque, but you’d never know it by the intensity of their competition.

Riobueno’s bright white sneakers are in stark contrast with the mossy green surface of the court. They highlight her quickness.

It’s impossible to overlook her constant motion and the force of her athletic frame thrown into every shot.

Riobueno is in her own world.  The only things that exist are her opponent and this match.

Her coaches watch from the grandstands above, shouting occasional positive encouragement.

When she is bested by her opponent, Riobueno expresses her frustration – subtly and briefly with a peppering of Venezuelan Spanish – and gets ready for the next point.

This is the intensity that coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews looks for in a player.  This is the intensity that earns a freshman ACC Player of the Week honors and a career-high ranking at No. 104.

Riobueno was also named to the ITA All-Tournament Team at the National Indoor Championships in February.

“As a player, Clementina, she’s coming along, she’s a great competitor, she’s very talented,” Yaroshuk-Tews said.

Volunteer assistant coach Laura Vallverdu, also a “Venezolana,” highlighted Riobueno’s court movement.

“As a player, Clemen is one of the most fun players that I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching here. She has a lot of talent, she’s very explosive and fast, and she can play from anywhere on the court,” Vallverdu said.

Riobueno, a native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, began playing tennis at age 4 and never looked back.

“I saw my parents playing one day, and then I fell in love with tennis,” she said.

The family that gave her a start in tennis is still the top priority in her life.

“My family is first,” Riobueno said. “First my family, then tennis, then friends.  Without them I couldn’t be here, they help me with everything.”

Although her family moved to South Florida in August, Riobueno maintains close ties with her home country. Her love for her city is undeniable.

“Everyone makes fun of me because of that. No one knows that city, it’s so small,” Riobueno laughed. “But it’s that city that you know everybody … you know every single place to go … I love it.”

Riobueno has acclimated well to Miami’s big-city lifestyle.

“It’s weird, the first time I came here I was like ‘Oh my God, what is this? Where am I now?’ looking at all the buildings,” she said. “But now I’m in love with this city, too.”

Her teammates enjoy her competitive presence on the court, and look forward to watching Riobueno’s Hurricanes career blossom.

“She doesn’t like to lose. She will leave it all out there before she shakes hands,” said junior Melissa Bolivar, who met Riobueno at a tournament in Venezuela eight years ago. “She’s smart on the court … I think she has a lot to grow as a person and as a player because she’s so young, but she’s on the right path.”