Sports, Tennis

Despite success, Perez-Somarriba remains hungry for more

The kitchen door wasn’t big enough.

Estela Perez-Somarriba spent hours taking her father’s tennis racket and rocketing the ball off the wall in her home.

From an early age, Perez-Somarriba was determined, but her court needed an upgrade.

Perez-Somarriba’s parents quickly took her to a tennis club on the weekends about 30 minutes away from her house in Madrid.

But Perez-Somarriba defeated the kids her age with ease. So, she went on to play kids five years older than her and still won.

“I first realized that I could play for a long time when one of the coaches told me when I was six, that I could be really good and that I had a lot of talent,” Perez-Somarriba said.

She trained three days during the week and competed in matches over the weekend.

Yet, her parents still held her to a high standard off the court, emphasizing that school was fundamental to playing tennis.

Balancing both at an early age, Perez-Somarriba swiftly rose up the ranks. She competed in the U-10 Madrid Championship and the European Summer and Winter Cups, giving her a better perspective of tennis at the international level.

Her hard work paid off. In 2015, Perez-Somarriba won the Madrid Championship and participated in the European Summer Cup.

Despite the success, she was hungry for more.

Perez-Somarriba was narrowing down her college choices and got a phone call that would ultimately change her life.

It was the University of Miami.

“I heard before how tough the Miami coaches were,” Perez-Somarriba said. “I really liked that. I thought that was really important in my development. I saw myself practicing here, with the teammates, going to class, living here and enjoying the culture. It was easy.”

Nearly 4,500 miles away from home, she had to adjust to life in the United States.

“I was homesick,” Perez-Somarriba said. “But I remember, [associate head coach Laura Vallverdu]talked to me after two weeks and told me ‘Why aren’t you smiling? When you came as a recruit, you were smiling the whole time. We want you to be as happy as possible.’ After that point, I realized I wasn’t enjoying this as much as I could. It became a point of reference for me. I understood that I just needed to be myself.”

At first, the English language and her longing for Spanish ham, paella and tapas were a challenge, but Perez-Somarriba adapted to her South Florida surroundings.

“I’ve learned to enjoy the process,” she said. “I’ve learned to enjoy every single moment of my life. I go to class, I have finals, I have matches and I’m still enjoying this. I try and find the positive in everything I do.”

Since then, Perez-Somarriba has hit the ground running.

Her freshman season, Perez-Somarriba burst onto the scene. The 5-foot-5 Spaniard became just the eighth Hurricane, and the lone freshman in program history, to make the Final Four of the NCAA Singles Championship.

Perez-Somarriba finished the 2016-17 campaign with a 34-7 record in singles play and was named an ITA All-American as well as a First Team All-ACC honoree.

However, all that was just the beginning.

She followed up her standout rookie season storming back to the NCAA Singles Championship Sweet 16. Perez-Somarriba, who went 39-8 in singles, was named the 2017-18 ACC Player of the Year and earned her second ITA All-American honors in as many seasons.

“Mentally, my improvement has been amazing,” Perez-Somarriba said. “In tough moments, I trust my tennis and I trust my mind so much that I think failure is not an option.”

Although, the best was yet to come.

In the fall of 2018, Perez-Somarriba claimed the elite Oracle ITA Masters tournament title and earned the back draw title at the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championships.

“This is the first time I won a college tournament, so it was definitely a special tournament,” she said about winning the Oracle ITA Masters Tournament. “This is the best fall I’ve had so far. I’m really excited for this year.”

Perez-Somarriba, who was tapped into the prestigious Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Society with an impressive 3.97 GPA, wrapped up her junior fall ranked seventh nationally and secured a 12-2 mark.

“She wants to truly excel in everything she does,” Hurricanes coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews said. “She truly wants to be the best in whatever she is doing.”

Perez-Somarriba has started her 2019 spring campaign going a combined 13-3 in singles and doubles action. Yet, she remains determined on accomplishing bigger things.

“I want to be ranked first, honestly,” Perez-Somarriba said. “That’s the reason why I wake up in the morning and I go to practice and give my best. Obviously, winning the national title is in my mind. Daily work is the only way to impact those results. All the accolades are extra. I’m improving so much as a person. I’m learning so much from my coaches, from my teammates so all these accolades are great, but they’re extra.”

While Perez-Somarriba is focused when it comes to tennis, she has found ways to build strong bonds off the court.

“When she’s on the court, she is very intense,” senior Daniella Roldan said. “When I first met her she seemed like in her own world. She was very quiet, but now I see a different Stela. She’s very outgoing.”

Perez-Somarriba picked up the guitar at eight years old and said she enjoys spending time playing and listening to music.

“She plays the guitar and I sing,” Roldan said, smiling. “We have a duo going on. We’ve performed in front of our team a few times.”

Whether it’s Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, or Spanish music, Perez-Somarriba tries to find time for her love of music.

“Music in my family has been involved forever,” she said. “My mom plays the guitar and sings really well. We all got something from her. My oldest sister is a professional pianist. I really enjoy that when I have a break. We spend hours singing, all together. I don’t think we play amazing, but I enjoy being all together.”

Perez-Somarriba has her sights set on playing professionally following her time at UM and continues to remain focused on her dream while balancing the rigorous life of a student-athlete.

“Every great player that has come through here has been very similar to her with their approach,” Yaroshuk-Tews said. “It’s business when they’re between the lines and it’s something that is a priority for them in their life. They’re going to make a lot of sacrifices. Nothing is going to get in their way.”

February 4, 2019

Reporters

Josh White


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