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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Tennis

Talented freshman grows into better teammate


Freshman Despoina Vogasari went from playing for herself to cheering for teammates during her six months at UH. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Freshman Despoina Vogasari went from playing for herself to cheering for teammates during her six months at UH.  |  Courtesy of UH Athletics

The decision whether to go pro or play a collegiate sport didn’t come easy for Despoina Vogasari.

After growing up in Athens, Greece, Vogasari, 17, debated whether to begin her professional career or put it on hold by attending UH to strengthen her athletic ability and obtain a college degree.

But the decision did not rest solely on her shoulders; her parents and brother helped her make the transition to the United States.

“It was a really tough time, because it was like a life decision, and they were really supportive, and they helped me through a lot, and they supported me, and they told me that ‘We’re with you — anything you choose, we’re going back to you up 100 percent,’” Vogasari said.

In the last two weeks, Vogasari said, she has made her family proud with her continued success. She was named American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week and American Athletic Conference Tennis Player of the Week for the second time in as many weeks.

“It feels really, really good. It’s a big honor. I’m satisfied with the way I’m playing, but it’s not enough for me. I will try my best throughout the rest of the season, and I hope I win more of those,” Vogasari said.

But the transition to team sports was difficult for her at first.

Vogasari spent time playing individual tennis tournaments before she arrived at UH, which made her struggle to become a team player. For her first six months at UH, she said, she thought only about herself and what she needed to do to win. Team captain and senior Celia Fraser said she has already noticed a change in Vogasari.

“Being on court next to her, I could hear her cheering for me between both courts, and it was a great feeling being a senior and just knowing that your freshmen have bought into what you’re trying to do, and everyone is heading toward the same goal,” Fraser said.

Head coach Patrick Sullivan has experience coaching players who have had some of the same skills as Vogasari. He coached two No. 1 players who started their winning streaks with a successful freshman season.

“Luckily I’ve been down this road before. She’s great, and I think she’s talented if not more talented than those other two, but she’s got a long way to go before she can get her picture on the walls as an All-American. Great start, we’re really proud of her, but she’s got a way higher ceiling than what she’s done so far,” Sullivan said. “She’s had a good first 25 percent to her first year.”

While the team and Sullivan have noticed positive changes in her performance, Sullivan said she is still working on her fitness and mental toughness. Assistant Director of Sports Performance Kiara Pulliam in the weight room has been an asset to Vogasari by helping her get in shape.

“She is very tough, but it’s a matter of getting her to be tough and focused for a long period of time. I’ve seen her be as tough as anyone I’ve ever coached, man or woman; I’ve seen her have 15 minutes of toughness, tougher than anyone I’ve ever coached, but I’ve never seen her have two hours straight of toughness. A tennis match is a marathon,” Sullivan said.

“A lot of it is physical, but at least half the game is mental. If we can get her to keep on continuing to make strides physically and then focusing for longer than 15 minutes, focusing from the beginning to the end of a match, there’s no limit to what she can accomplish.”

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