By Karina Gonzalez
Spain and Croatia are two European nations separated by over 1,000 miles and have vast cultural differences that set them apart from one another. Despite those differences, the University of Nevada, Reno’s women’s tennis team has found a commonality to link these two lands together. Sophomore Blaga Delic is from Split, Croatia and junior Sheila Morales Hidalgo is from Pamplona, Spain and the two have been paired by chance to form a nationally-ranked doubles team. Entering the season ranked 27th in the nation, the duo’s combined talents are shining a light on the women’s tennis program.
At home, Delic and Morales Hidalgo were forced to choose between pursuing an education or a sport, a choice neither was willing to make. Instead they came to the United States, a place where it is much easier to attain both.
Given a list of schools to choose from, both Delic and Morales Hidalgo chose Nevada because of the West Coast’s weather. Delic is majoring in molecular biology, and Morales Hidalgo is majoring in mathematics. Both girls feel that continuing their education in the U.S. while playing the sport that they love is the best opportunity for them.
“I wanted to keep playing, and I felt that this would be a good opportunity for me to learn, meet new people, study and play at the same time,” Morales Hidalgo said.
Both girls started playing tennis at a young age. Delic was exposed to the game at the age 5 by her older brother and began to play herself when she was 7. Morales Hidalgo took up the game when she was 5 and learned tennis through her father, who plays the Basque sport “pelota” which is similar to tennis. Her first experiences with tennis were her hitting the ball across the hallways of her house.
Delic and Morales Hidalgo both agree that coming to America to play tennis and seek an education was the best option for them.
“People are not playing tennis [where I’m from] because it’s a pretty expensive sport, so we just have one tennis club in my town,” Delic said. “Here we have the opportunity to play tennis, get an education, meet new people and compete with other schools.”
Last season the duo became the first ever Wolf Pack women’s doubles team to compete at the NCAA championships. They hope to make it to the championships again, but still have a long season ahead of them.
“It was a pretty cool experience to see all the big schools and to play against them,” Delic says. “It was hard. We didn’t expect we were going to make it to the NCAA.”
Head coach Guillaume Tonelli paired the two together last year and has been impressed with their results thus far.
“Blaga was a freshman last year, so she had never played doubles before and it just came to together,” Tonelli said. “It’s something as a coach that you don’t really know how it’s going to go because you can’t plan on chemistry.”
The duo’s chemistry was on display last season, as they posted a 16-6 overall record (14-4 in dual action and 4-1 in Mountain West play). Last year at the Mountain West Championships, they received the All-Mountain West honors and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. They were one of 32 teams selected to compete at the NCAA Championship in Waco, Texas. After losing to Baylor in the first round, Delic and Morales Hidalgo said they both hope to improve their consistency on the court and work on completing their volleys as they progress through the season.
“We really want to make it again,” Morales Hidalgo said. “We are working hard for it, and we are going to keep working. We have a lot of time to get through the season and play ranked teams and that’s going to help us improve.”
The duo will begin their run for another NCAA tournament appearance this weekend for the Cal-Nike Invitational at Berkeley, California.
Karina Gonzalez can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.