Countdown: Gabriella Castañeda Connects with FSU
by Blair Henley, 23 October 2013
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Like many children growing up in the tennis mecca that is South Florida, Gabriella Castañeda got an early start on her tennis career. Her father Larry, a former minor league baseball player, introduced her to the game when she was just five years old, and she's been a one-sport athlete ever since. Next fall, Castañeda will be the newest Seminole on the Florida State women's team and, well, she's pretty excited about it.
"It was a great decision," she said. "I don't regret it one bit. It kind of [stinks] that I have to wait another 10 months to go and play. I have to wait it out now and kill time."
As eager as Castañeda sounds, she wasn't always so enthusiastic about her tennis future. In fact, she spent a semester away from the sport at the start of her sophomore year to reevaluate her singular focus on the game. She would return to the court refreshed and renewed, using the remainder of the season to make her way from three-star status to one of the most sought-after recruits in the country.
"Psychologically, I got back into it [after the break]," she said. "I found personal motivations and pushed myself to get where I am now. Mid sophomore year, I lost 20 pounds and got into tremendous shape. It was a total turning point for me."
Castañeda established herself as one of the top players in Florida, and as a result, saw the same faces in the latter rounds of tournament after tournament. That influenced her decision to devote more of her time to junior ITF events. She liked the idea of competing against a new crop of players from all over the world.
"When you get to international tournaments, there is no previous friction," she explained. "You're playing against someone you've never met before, and you're not saying, 'Oh, I played you two years ago and we had this tough three setter.' It's a clean slate."
During the fall of her junior year, she would go on to win an ITF tournament in Honduras, using what she calls a "very flat" game to dismantle her opponents.
"I don't hit a lot of spin," Castañeda said. "It's something that all my coaches have been on top of me for, saying 'Hit more spin! Hit more spin!' But I've always played that flat game, and I've set my mind to improve it and not change it."
In addition to her unusual style, Castañeda is an outlier in another aspect of her approach: she handles losses like a champ.