Hernan Vasconez’ last day in Equador, his home country, replays regularly in his head.
The lone senior on the men’s tennis team had enjoyed his time with his family, preparing to return back to the United States for the spring semester, when his friends asked him to play one last match of doubles.
During the contest, an unexpected return caught him off guard. The counter to his forehand forced Vasconez to change direction suddenly, as he saw his collegiate tennis career disappear in way of a sharp pain in his left knee.
The recreational tennis match on a clay court with a few friends soon turned into a nightmare that would ensure Vasconez would never wear a Temple uniform on a tennis court again.
“Some of my friends that I practiced tennis with back home asked me to play doubles with them before I leave,” Vasconez said. “I remember that I hit a forehand and returned to the middle of the court thinking the ball was going to my backhand, and the ball came to my forehand. When I changed my direction in the clay court, that was when I felt excruciating pain … when you tear something, you feel it.”
He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the match, putting an end to Vasconez’ four-year Temple career before the start of his final season.
“It is weird,” Vasconez said. “I still feel like a freshman sometimes, I still feel like I just came to Temple. I still thought that I had so much more ahead of me. I can’t believe that this has happened. Sometimes I dream about it, and I say to myself that I must go to practice, but I can’t.”
His teammate, junior Nicolas Paulus, will have to help shoulder the load on the team. The loss of Vasconez will allow other players to be counted on more, Paulus said.
“It is sad to hear [Hernan] will be missing the rest of the season,” Paulus said. “Now the attitude is to involve the other players more and show them how to get better on the court and off of the court.”
The injury has given Vasconez a different perspective on tennis, which at times he took for granted.
“When you still play, sometimes you want it to be over,” Vasconez said. “But when you realize [playing collegiate tennis] is over, it is really hard.”
In his teenage years, Vasconez said he knew he needed to play tennis in the United States, as collegiate tennis isn’t as widely offered in his home country.
“I wanted to come to America since I was 16,” Vasconez said. “When you are 18 in South America, if you don’t come to the United States to play tennis, your career is over. It is either you [play professionally] or you are done. If you want to go pro, you must come to America and get a scholarship.”
International athletes do not have the luxury of competing in events with scouts, so they get noticed through agencies that reach out to collegiate coaches throughout the country.
Vasconez remembers the first time someone described Temple to him. The description was what he wanted out of the college experience.
“In Ecuador, the athletes get in contact with a company who sends emails to many coaches,” Vasconez said. “I lived in Tampa, Florida for six months before I came to Temple … When I heard the reputation of Temple academically, with that being my main priority, I felt it was the best place for me to study.”
When Owls coach Steve Mauro viewed Vasconez’ video and discovered that “he was as strong of a student as an athlete,” it captured his attention.
Almost four years later, Mauro said his recruiting of Vasconez was the right decision.
His ability to adapt to the type of game the coaches wanted him to play, Mauro said, was key to his improvement.
“[Hernan] is a coachable athlete,” Mauro said. “He is intelligent on the court and was open to instruction. The [coaching staff] wanted him to play a more all-court game and finish more points at the net with his volleys, not necessarily with his power game, but taking advantage with his good hands … by putting his opponent away at the net.”
While Vasconez’ plans include attaining his degree in finance and international business from the Fox School of Business this spring, they will also continue to include the love he had once overlooked.
“It will be hard to get rid of tennis,” Vasconez said. “It has always been an important part of my life.”
Dalton Balthaser can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DaltonBalthaser