SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - Sophomore Rocio Portela (Demetrio Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) made an immediate impact for the Pirates as a freshman last season. Playing with her classmate Chloe Sher (Shui Wai, Hong Kong), Portela was part of SHU's top doubles team last season. The two newcomers registered 11 doubles victories in 2010-11, the third highest single season total by any Pirate pair since 2001.
Earlier this year, Portela and Sher continued their strong play throughout the fall schedule. The two advanced to the semifinals of the A flight doubles bracket at the Quinnipiac Invitational. The pair of second-year players closed the fall season by recording a win at the ITA Regional Tournament for the second straight year, defeating Quinnipiac's team of Labarthe/Viebrock, 8-5, in their opening match.
On the eve of the start to the spring season, Portela sat down with "At the Net" to answer a few questions.
Q: You had an impressive first season on the court as a Pirate. Can you tell us what factored into your decision to attend Seton Hall?
Portela: I had a number of options regarding where I could continue to play tennis but academics played a large role in my decision making process as well. As a member of the BIG EAST, Seton Hall offered the ideal combination of a high-level of tennis competition and respected academic programs in my major (diplomacy). Also, being so close to New York City is definitely a benefit. I love to visit the city and our location makes it convenient.
Q: Unfortunately, you struggled with some injury issues last year. What kind have changes have you made to your training program to prepare for the physical demands of the season?
Portela: I think last year showed me the importance of fitness at this level. Playing both doubles and singles, sometimes you have to play four matches in one day. This season, I have a better understanding of what to expect so I am trying to take better advantage of the training staff that we have here. Also, I have been concentrating on strength training on my own in order to equip my body to play a large number of matches in a short period of time.
Q: We are going to play a quick word association game. When I say "road trips," what comes to mind?
Portela: The van (laughing). We're a small team but road trips definitely help us come together more as a team. We travel close together, once we get there, we are on the same schedule. Sometimes at home matches we just meet up before the match but on the road, you spend a lot more time with your teammates. I feel like since we are surrounded by each other, we can concentrate on going out and playing well.
Q: You mentioned that playing in the BIG EAST is part of why you chose Seton Hall. What do you think makes the BIG EAST difficult as a tennis conference?
Portela: In tennis, a lot of good young players choose not to go to college and play professionally. The ones that do attend college, they are going to want to go where the best competition is. At the highest level of college tennis, a lot of the players you go up against had the opportunity to turn professional, so that is part of why each match is a challenge. I think the BIG EAST attracts talented players because as a conference, it has a strong reputation.
Q: How has having a full year of experience at the collegiate level benefited you and your approach on the tennis court?
Portela: Last year was a great opportunity for me to gain experience. Playing in the number two slot, I had the chance to go up against talented players in each match. Last year, I was unsure of the tactics I was going to use on the court. Now, I go into matches with a plan A and plan B. I feel like I have a better sense of what is working and what I need to adapt to during the match. Also, this season, I feel like I am more mentally prepared to play girls who might have more experience than me or are the captain of their team etc. I know what to expect on the college level now, so I feel like I can play with a lot more confidence.
Portela and the Pirates open up their spring schedule tomorrow, February 4, when they travel to take on Army on the campus of the United States Military Academy. Start-time is scheduled for 10:00 a.m.