It’s rare for a Division I athlete to play their first collegiate season as a senior.
Yet, this was the case for women’s tennis senior Brenda Cuadra, who walked onto the team during her final semester of college.
Before Lehigh, Cuadra was a standout tennis player for the Emilio Sánchez International School in Naples, Florida.
Cuadra said she was on track to play at the college level, but tore a tendon in her knee during the first semester of her high school senior year and was sidelined for the entire season.
Cuadra said she endured a challenging rehab process that interfered with her ability to be recruited.
“When I came to Lehigh, I stopped playing entirely. I didn’t think I was ever going to play tennis again,” Cuadra said.
With her college days numbered and her knee recovered, Cuadra said she feared that she’d later regret giving up the sport for good.
So, she decided to join Lehigh’s club tennis team.
Despite a four-year hiatus, Cuadra said she realized she was still capable of competing.
“The injury definitely made me tougher,” Cuadra said. “I felt like I could endure more and fight harder during each point.”
The varsity club had been struggling to fill roster spots earlier this season. Despite the team’s nine-player roster at the start of the fall season, external factors brought the roster down to just four.
Women’s tennis coach Sarah Hendrix said she was actively searching for players to recruit and reached out to senior Brian Zhu, captain of the club tennis team, to inquire about possible call-ups.
Hendrix said Zhu recommended Cuadra, since she was one of the club team’s best players.
Hendrix said she invited Cuadra to a team practice, where she impressed the coaching staff with her strong swing, solid accuracy and positive attitude.
Hendrix said she was confident that Cuadra would be a great fit, especially because of the perseverance she displayed dealing with her high school injury.
“I had accepted that playing collegiate tennis would always be a big ‘what if,’” Cuadra said. “As soon as coach asked me if I wanted to join and play in my last semester of college it was an instant yes.”
Cuadra said she was immediately welcomed with open arms and admired how supportive her teammates and coaches were throughout the transitional process.
Despite being the team’s only senior, Cuadra said she quickly grew close to all of her teammates.
With the roster shortage and no time to waste, Cuadra was immediately thrown into competition. Initially, Cuadra said she struggled to adjust to the pace of Division I tennis. She said she sometimes grew impatient playing below her pre-injury standards, but has been able to improve throughout the season.
Following Lehigh’s 4-3 win over Lafayette on April 3, Cuadra said that her swing timing, hitting accuracy and mobility felt the best they have all season.
Hendrix said she has been pleased with Cuadra’s coachability and desire to help her teammates improve.
“She has continued to make tremendous strides,” Hendrix said. “Her best tennis is definitely ahead of her.”
Cuadra and the rest of the women’s tennis team will compete against Hofstra on April 13.