March 11, 2013
By Michelle Human - USD Media Relations Student Assistant
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - Freshman Shani Blecher's victory that clinched the win for the University of San Diego Women's Tennis team over the No. 28 ranked Arizona team started with a 4-6 loss in her first set. It was February 9th, and the Toreros needed one more singles victory to defeat their opponents. Blecher was one of the only two still competing in the singles contest, and was falling behind in her second set. She looked to her assistant coach Patricia Tarabini (nicknamed Pato), and noticed her teammates, who had just finished their matches and hurried across the courts to cheer her on. In her comeback, Blecher managed to handle the pressure like a veteran and won the next two sets (7-6, 6-3) securing the victory for San Diego.
"When Pato told me it was the deciding match and I realized I had to win for the team, everything changed," Blecher said. "My whole life I have competed for myself, and this was the first time I was able to see that I am a part of a team. It felt so amazing to have everyone not only supporting me but also pushing me to do my best. It was one of the happiest moments of my life, just seeing that I am a member of this team."
Blecher is from Shoham, a small town of less than 20,000 people in Israel, where tennis is not as popular as it is here in the United States. There, she had a difficult time finding partners to play with and tournaments to compete in. The avid tennis player has participated in club tennis since she was seven years old, but was raised to focus on her singles game-- which is why she appreciates the team dynamic and cohesiveness she has been introduced to at her new home at the University of San Diego.
The student-athlete has accepted the challenge of learning a new language and adapting to life in a different country, all while balancing her academic and athletic commitments, with a smile.
"I love a challenge, that's what inspires me to come out to the court everyday and train," Blecher said. "I'm here to learn more and experience new things. I admit I was very scared to come out here at first, but I knew right away that this was the right place for me. I immediately felt a connection to my coaches and teammates, and I couldn't imagine how things could have worked out more perfectly. I have only known these people for a couple months, but I already know how much they care about me and feel like they are a second family."
With the help of her tennis family, Blecher has been able to adjust well to her new environment, despite being thousands of miles from her genetic family and hometown. She chose to come to USD over several other NCAA Division I universities including Clemson and WCC rival Pepperdine.
"I'm very proud of her, and happy that she chose USD," head coach Sherri Stephens, who is in her 29th year coaching the Toreros, said of Blecher. "She's adjusting perfectly. She fits in with the girls in every way and has been a real team player. She's made a tremendous impression on everyone involved in the program already--a very stable, technically sound player and genuinely nice, positive person. She works so hard that she inspires others to work hard as well."
The Torero hopes to one day advance to the professional level of play, a goal that coach Stephens mentioned as a definite possibility if the athlete continues her extensive work ethic. In the far future, she plans on contributing to the fields of nutrition or physical therapy, and therefore is considering declaring Biology as her major at USD. Off the courts, she enjoys going to the beach, hanging out with friends, and staying active through recreational participation in other sports such as basketball and soccer.
Looking forward in the Toreros schedule, Blecher will have the opportunity to compete against top schools and some of the top ranked college tennis players in the world, starting with tomorrow's match against No. 23 Texas Tech starting at 10:00 a.m. at the Skip and Cindy Hogan Tennis Center. The Toreros were picked to finish third in the WCC preseason polls and are currently ranked at No. 64 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
"I'm just so pleased to be here with this amazing team. Our chemistry is unlike any others, and it's going to take us far this year. It's an incredible feeling knowing that the girls next to me care. There is so much support, encouragement, and positive energy, and I know that our opponent's are intimidated by it."