Being a native from Mexico never stopped senior Santiago Sierra of the University of Utah men’s tennis team from traveling to the United States in pursuit of his dreams as a tennis player.
When Sierra was growing up he played in a lot of tournaments in the United States in hopes that when he competed against — and possibly beat — some American players, he would get recruited by American colleges. His hard work paid off and that’s exactly what happened.
Coming to the United States was something Sierra always had in mind, and he was encouraged by his coach back home that it was the best route to take to go pro. More than that, Sierra knew it would also give him more options in his life as a tennis player and as a student.
“I got to study whatever I wanted to study and when I was in the process of making the decision of where to go, I had Utah as one of my options,” Sierra said. “Just being at a Pac-12 school and being able to compete against all of the other prestigious schools was very appealing to me, as well as, Salt Lake City was a great place to live.”
Now that he is in his final year at Utah, Sierra can’t believe how fast time has flown being on the team. With the “finish line” not too far off in the distance, he can’t help but look back on the past three years and see how much he has improved as a player, student and person.
“Just looking back on the whole process of being a student-athlete here at Utah, it’s just been a great experience,” Sierra said. “I still have one more year, and I’m really excited to make the best out of it and to learn as much as I can. Being one of the older guys, I always try to set an example of what happens when you try hard, you will be successful.”
To set an example is exactly what head coach Roeland Brateanu wants to continue seeing from Sierra because he is the only player in Brateanu’s program that will have been with him for four straight years.
According to Brateanu, Sierra was one of the first players he recruited when he first came to Utah, and for him, it’s helpful to have someone that has been through his program and knows exactly what he expects from his players, who knows the system and the coaches.
“I think Santiago is going to be an unbelievable leader,” Brateanu said. “I think he is going to do a great job as a team captain, and I think will lead this team to somewhere we haven’t been in 21 years, which is the NCAA Tournament.”
For Sierra, it goes beyond just leading the team to the tournament. He has taken it upon himself to help guide those who are international athletes on the team who have had to make the same transition he made as a freshman. Sierra explained there is a cultural shock for people like him when they come to college in the United States.
When Sierra first came to Utah, there were only a few international athletes on the team. Those players on the team understood what Sierra was going through because they went through it themselves, and that helped him push forward. That is something he wants to continue helping others with while he is a member of the Utes.
“They kind of helped me get set up, and they kind of explained to me how things work in the United States and how the college thing worked,” Sierra said. “That helped me a lot, especially with a team that was so international, it helped me feel comfortable in that environment. That’s what I try to do when we get an international guy or even if it’s an American guy, it’s always nice to help show them how things kind of work here.”
With one year left, Sierra’s plans for after college are still up in the air but one thing that will always remain the same is his love for tennis. One of Sierra’s goals is to stay close to the sport even when he stops playing. The possibility of becoming a coach, while pursuing his master’s degree at the same time is a road Sierra may go down.
Until then, Brateanu is excited to see the “same heart and unbelievable work ethic that we have seen from [Sierra] these last three years” as he plays one final year at Utah.