ISU tennis finds strength in diversity

Iowa State junior Samantha Budai hits the ball at the Kansas match on April 10 at the Forker Tennis Courts.

Les Mwirichia

Finding strength in diversity isn’t easy, but the ISU tennis team, which has players from all corners of the globe, has shown that it can be done. 

The tennis team has earned the most wins in the team’s history this season. During the success, these young international athletes have made friendships on and off the court. In turn, that has formed chemistry when they play together and is considerable when factoring their success this season.

“This is a great group of girls that we have this year,” said junior Samantha Budai. “Everybody is reliable, and I know that I can count on all of my teammates to work hard at practice.”

Born in Cúcuta, Colombia, senior Alejandra Galvis is rounding off a tremendous career as a Cyclone and has already made her mark in the school record books. Galvis is in the top five for single-play career and season conference victories.

Coming from a strong tennis background, Galvis was ranked No. 1 in Colombia in 2010 and is also a Colombian national champion. She has also represented Colombia as the No. 1 player at the South American Championships.

Galvis has taken a leadership role on the team, and freshman Claudia Toledo tends to follow in her footsteps. In practice, the level of competition is high between the two. But off the court they are inseparable.

“Clau is so tough,” Galvis said. “I love going against her in practice because she hits the ball really hard. We have been friends since she joined the team, and I’m glad that she plays here because she is so talented and has a great career ahead of the her at ISU.”

Toledo, who hails from Davie, Fla., made her debut and earned her first victory as a Cyclone this season against in-state rival Northern Iowa on Feb. 19. Galvis was the first to win her match that day because of a forfeit and went to the court Toledo was playing on to cheer for her.

Galvis cheered for every point Toledo scored against her opponent. And those chants were heard from the other end of the Ames Racquet and Fitness Center that day.

“[Galvis] is really loud. We have a lot of laughs together,” Toledo said. “But I love her and all my teammates. They are all so supportive. [Galvis] and the other upperclassmen have set such a high standard for us freshman, and we work really hard and push each other, and everyone wants to get better.”

This season, Galvis has been paired with freshman Annabella Bonadonna, who is from Caracas, Venezuela. Both speak Spanish, which has aided them in winning 15 doubles matches for the Cyclones. During their matches, the two go back and forth in Spanish and English.

“Playing on a team with Alej is great,” Bonadonna said. “She plays with a lot of energy and so do I. I think that is why coach put us together.”

Spanish conversations among Galvis, Bonadonna and ISU coach Armando Espinosa can be heard during matches. The ability to speak in Spanish can be a benefit for the trio, but it can also create a barrier among teammates.

“The ability to speak Spanish allows me to connect differently with the player who speak the language,” Espinosa said. “But I have to be careful for those who don’t understand. I don’t want them to feel left out.”

For example, Espinosa speaks English with the other freshman-senior pairing of Ana Gasparovic, a Croatian native, and Regina Espindola, a Mexican native, so they can both understand him. 

This also applies to another successful duo this season: Budai, a native of London, Ontario, and freshman Liza Buss of Togliatti, Russia. The two are on the verge of cementing their names in the ISU tennis history books.

“At the end of the day, we are all friends,” Budai said. “We all get along and love this game, and that is why we play.”