The Marquette women’s tennis team has had to rely on a lot of solid play from its younger players, with only one upperclassman, junior Rocio Diaz, on the roster.
Two of Marquette’s best performers so far are two of its latest additions, freshmen twins Aina and Laia Hernandez Soler.
The Hernandez Soler twins have already made a big impact, coming through last weekend in the Spartan Invitational. Laia won the singles title and Aina, combined with Diaz, won the doubles championship.
Coach Jody Bronson said the Barcelona, Spain natives’ early success speaks to their coachability, character and willingness to get better. Thanks to a tournament close to home in Illinois last summer, Bronson discovered the twins and got a first-hand look at their potential.
Helping players adjust to a new country and new competitive level is nothing new for the women’s tennis team, which features five players from outside the United States.
“Everybody’s really helping them, from their teammates to their trainers and people they see every day,” Bronson said. “Everybody’s getting them to understand what its like to play at this level, and they’ve totally embraced it.”
Laia said the team’s upperclassmen have been like family to her and her sister so far.
“Vanessa (Foltinger) is like a sister to me,” Laia said. “And I wouldn’t say Rocio (Diaz) is like my mom, but she’s always telling me to do this or do the other. Ana (Pimienta) is so organized and Ali (Dawson) is so responsible.”
The new style of play and new climate haven’t been too much of an adjustment for Laia so far, but she said she’s anxious for what the winter will bring.
“In Spain they play more aggressively, but here the girls play a lot more consistently,” Laia said. “For now (the weather’s) okay because we have this kind of weather in Spain, but it’s going to get colder and we’re lucky to have the indoor courts.”
Laia said she and Aina have always been close and that going to school together was one of the pair’s top priorities.
“One of the things I wanted when I went to study abroad was a school with dual scholarships for me and my sister,” Laia said. “We’ve been close all of our lives because we like the same sports. We did gymnastics together, we would ski together. We luckily like the same things.”
Telling the twins apart is no easy task. Aina recalled an amusing story in which she was ranked lower than her sister in a tournament and ended up playing Laia in a doubles match.
After Laia didn’t play as well as her higher ranking had led him to believe, the father of the girl she was paired with complained to the tournament staff that the twins had switched places.
Even Bronson’s ability to distinguish Aina for Laia took some time, particularly on the tennis court.
“I probably was the last one to be able to tell them apart,” Bronson said. “When they were together I could tell them apart at first, but it took a while to figure out who was whom when I saw them apart. It’s been kind of a fun process for all of us.”
Bronson said the dead giveaway when watching the twins play is that Aina is a lefty while her sister plays right-handed.
The sisters were also nearly identical in their praise for Marquette’s team atmosphere. They each believe Marquette’s spirit and raucous cheering during the matches is different from anything they’ve experienced, and they’ve embraced it whole-heartedly so far.