One common goal, two very different journeys

By Michael Meraz

By Michael Meraz

<object classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" <param name="menu" <param Brazil and Mexico are approximately 4000 miles apart. Daniel Coelho and Yair Banuelos now live in the same building.

Growing up in the third largest city in Brazil, Belo Horizonte, Coelho started playing tennis at the age of nine. It was hard for Coelho to receive much recognition for his play, as soccer is the big sport of the country.

Although he loved playing soccer, Coelho stuck with tennis as his primary focus. He credits the sport he loves with helping him through many adverse times, such as the death of his grandmother.

“It really helped keep my mind off of things,” Coelho said.

After high school, he moved to Portugal with his coach, Cristiano Oliveria. It was there where Coelho honed his skills to make them what they are today.

He credits his coach and year long experience in Portugal as one of the driving forces in developing his game. “It was definitely a great experience for me,” Coelho said. “The tennis in Europe is very strong.”

After Coelho returned from Portugal, he set his sights on coming to America and gaining his education while furthering his tennis career.

Although he received few scholarship offers, there were still schools that were very interested. Coelho chose Riverside City College and moved to Riverside in the summer of 2007 from Brazil, due in large part to the friendliness and helpfulness of head coach Jim Elton.

While Coelho grew up in Brazil and spent a year in Portugal, the story of Yair Banuelos is different, yet somehow very similar.

Banuelos was born in Mexico City, Mexico. He started playing tennis at the ripe age of four years old.

Like Coelho, Banuelos loved both tennis, and his country’s sport of choice, soccer. Banuelos, too, decided to stick with the sport he loved.

While he competed in the International Tennis Federation tournaments, he played three full years of tennis in high school as well. He chose to fully commit to his tennis career after and moved to Toluca, Mexico with his coach Jorge Olaya.

Banuelos continued his schooling in Toluca and lived with Olaya for his last year of high school. He credits coach Olaya with being one of his biggest inspirations throughout his tennis career, and stays in touch with him to this day.

After competing throughout his high school career, Banuelos took two years off from school but still pursued tennis. He then decided to pursue both his tennis and educational goals in America.

Banuelos saw RCC as his opportunity to achieve both of his goals and decided to attend in the fall of 2007. He also credits his choice of RCC to Coach Jim Elton.

Coelho and Banuelos arrived in the summer 2007, though they would not meet until tennis started.

Both faced a number of obstacles that many foreign students face in the United States. Coelho says one of his biggest concerns was learning English.

“I had gotten scholarships for other schools, but my English wasn’t good enough,” Coelho said. “I only knew basic English, but I’m getting it now.”

Banuelos, on the other hand, says his biggest obstacle was leaving his family behind.

“It was hard, but I really want to reach my goals,” Banuelos said. “Tennis helps a lot.”

After getting accustomed to the country throughout the summer, it was time for the duo to get down to business. They met in the fall of 2007 and began practicing together, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Coelho, growing up in Brazil and only playing on clay courts, plays a more controlled game.

“It’s hard, because here the ball goes faster than on clay,” Coelho said. “I pretty much play the clay style of game.”

Banuelos plays more with a killer instinct, being aggressive on almost every point.

“I just like to play that way,” Banuelos said. It’s no wonder these two make such a great doubles team with such complementary styles of play.

Both competed in singles as well as doubles. They both had successes throughout the season, but just like any other sport, tennis players are measured for what they do in the postseason.

Coelho and Banuelos did not disappoint.

Coelho became the second player in RCC history to win the Ojai championship. He then went on to win the Southern California men’s singles title, and teamed with Banuelos to take the doubles title as well. Still not satisfied, Coelho became the first player in RCC history to win a singles state championship.

Hassan Abbas, who Coelho defeated in the finals, knocked out Banuelos in the semi-final round of the state championships.

Both Coelho and Banuelos are such strong players that they even have to face each other on occasion. “The pressure definitely goes away,” Banuelos said. “It’s definitely friendlier.”

“It was weird, but it felt good for the team,” Coelho added. “All Coach Elton could say was ‘Let’s go Tigers!'”

Elton states that there is no way he could have predicted the success of these two individuals. “I knew they would push each other all year,” he said. “You can never know how good the other players are; I just knew they were both very good.”

The sky is the limit for these two. Though Coelho, 20, plans on returning to Brazil in the summer. Banuelos, 21, has plans to go back to Mexico. Both plan on attending RCC next year.Though Banuelos and Coelho give a lot of the credit to their coach, Elton states they have no one to credit but themselves.

“They definitely deserve all the credit,” Elton said. “Hopefully I can get some more good players in the future.”

Coelho and Banuelos are very motivated to achieve their ultimate goal, which has nothing to do with tennis.

Both are intent on receiving their education and graduating from four year universities. They plan on being done with RCC by next spring, ready to transfer to four year institutes.

It seems as if their journeys have only just begun.