Daily Egyptian

Senior leads on and off court

By Tony McDaniel

More than 4,300 miles and an ocean separate a senior tennis player from the place he grew up and his new found home.

Rafael Cuadrillero was born in Madrid, but moved across the Atlantic to play collegiate tennis at SIU. Cuadrillero, who goes by ‘Rafa’ much like fellow Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, is in his final season with the Salukis. Cuadrillero will attempt to bring senior leadership to a young but talented team that is poised to make a run at a Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Cuadrillero is not only a leader on the court but in the classroom as well. Cuadrillero’s 3.74 GPA is not only the team’s highest GPA, but among the best in the MVC. In 2012, his sophomore season, Cuadrillero was named an MVC Honorable Mention Scholar Athlete. He followed up in his junior year by being named an Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar Athlete, and was also a MVC scholar-athlete first team member last season.

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Cuadrillero, a civil engineering major, attributes much of his success in the classroom to his time management skills, and the help he receives from the academic center.

“We’re all student athletes, so we’ve all got to keep up with school and keep up with good grades, especially me,” he said. “I just try to get every A. For me, it’s not really that hard. As soon as you’re determined, I don’t find any difficulties.”

Coach Dann Nelson knows how important it is to have a leader like Cuadrillero.

“Rafa brings an example of how to do things the right way,” Nelson said. “He’s led the GPA since he was a freshman on our team, so players look up to him in more than one area.”

Despite growing up with perfect tennis weather in Spain, Cuadrillero has adapted to the frigid winters of Carbondale.

“I got offered [a scholarship] here, I did my research, and I found it pretty interesting,” he said. “I talked to some guys that were here and I liked it. I’m happy with my choice.”

Last season, Cuadrillero finished with a season record of 8-17, with a 1-3 record in conference play. Cuadrillero said he knows what he needs to work on to play better.

“Personally, I can always improve my fitness,” he said. “My forehand for sure, and I need to get more consistent on the serve.”

The Salukis are coming off a fall season that ended well with freshman Michal Kianicka and sophomore Jonny Rigby winning the MVC doubles championship. Rigby also made it to the finals of the men’s singles tournament where he lost to top seeded Alen Salibasic of Drake University. Cuadrillero says he expects great things from his team this semester.

“I’ve been here the longest, so I just want to lead the team,” he said. “We want to do something great. There is only six of us this year so everybody has to fight for the team, and just make sure we give 100 percent in every practice and every match, and just make something great by the end of the year.”

The Salukis are coming off a successful 2013 season that brought them the No. 14 recruiting class among mid-major schools. The team will play 20 matches on its journey to the MVC Championship starting April 25. Conference foes, such as Drake and defending MVC champions Wichita State will be the top teams in the Valley this season.

“I just can’t wait for conference,” Cuadrillero said. “I think that’s everybody’s goal; be ready for conference and be ready for a fight to the title.”

Coach Nelson said there is not much he would change about Cuadrillero apart from his choice of facial hair.

“He shaved his beard,” Nelson said. “He left school after finals and came back with a full beard and I was loving the beard, and then he shaved it off. I wanted him to play the first match with a beard.”

Cuadrillero assured Nelson it would not take long to grow back.

Cuadrillero and the Salukis will look to get their first win Jan. 31 at Northern Illinois University.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @tonymcdanielDE, or 536-3311 ext. 282.

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