Tennis player fueled by faith


Sean Hastings

Freshman Karla Contreras returns the ball back to junior Abby Carpenter at practice Sept. 21 in the Darling Courts. Contreras said her faith and religion is what keeps her positive.

Parker Valentine, Tennis Reporter

Warm, muggy-morning training and long afternoons of homework. That was the life of Eastern freshman Karla Contreras.

Contreras hails from downtown Panama City, Panama. She comes from an environment where sky scrapers reign supreme, and so the rural area of Charleston is a bit different than what she is accustomed to.

That has not shaken her positive attitude ,though.

“I love both environments, here I feel more free, but I love the urban environment as well,” Contreras said.

Contreras was a ballet dancer when she was six years old, though that did not last long. Her parents thought their active young daughter was destined for athletics—they were right.

Contreras attended her first tennis camp when she was six years old and stuck with it from there. She still sees the similarities between ballet and her passion for tennis, though.

“In ballet, when you go to the theater and watch, you see all the art and it seems so natural, it seems so easy. It is not easy, they take their shoes off and they have blisters all over their feet,” Contreras said.

She believes the unseen grind of ballet is a nuance of tennis as well.

“When people go to tennis matches they see a two-hour competition, but it comes from many hours of hard work, training and sweating,” she said.

From childhood in Panama to the present day, Contreras has made that grind a daily routine.

Contreras was home schooled by her parents from the eighth grade through high school, where she took online classes from the University of Nebraska High School.

Tennis, along with her online classes, were her top priorities. Contreras practiced throughout the morning and did her school work in the afternoon.

Although her parents assisted her at first, after a bit of time passed, Contreras found herself in charge of a large portion of her schoolwork.

The Panthers have completed two fall invitationals without a head coach.

Contreras said her independent home schooling prepared her for this situation. She said her teammates have acclimated well to their circumstances as well.

“I am not dependent on a teacher, when I was homeschooled I had to do my research and learn things on my own,” Contreras said. “You have to discipline yourself. We are all doing a very good job.”

That acclimation to a new environment and set of circumstances has translated on to the tennis court for Contreras and her new team.

In her first career tournament as a Panther, Contreras won her flight championship after a gauntlet of matches.

At the SIUE Fall Invitational, the freshman had a chance to showcase her talent.

Contreras defeated opponents from Western and Saint Louis, before her three-set championship thriller against rival, Southern Illinois Edwardsville sophomore Lara Tupper.

After dropping the first set of the match 3-6, Contreras came back and won the second set 6-2. This led to a 22 point third set where Contreras emerged victorious, winning 12-10.

One of Contreras’ strongest assets on the court, her forehand slice, came to her in an unexpected manner.

When she was 14, Contreras suffered a hairline fracture in her arm. Seven days later, not only did she compete in a tournament in a cast, she won.

“Coach told me during the week of practice before the tournament I had to learn how to slice. Through that adversity, I learned how to slice,” Contreras said.

“In the tournament I actually beat one of the girls that was older than me because I could slice, she could not get to the ball at the net, that’s how I know to slice now,” she said.

Contreras attributed her positive attitude and constant optimism to her faith and religion.

“My faith is the fountain to my happiness,” Contreras said.

Contreras’ constant energy and motivation has not gone unnoticed by her teammates.

“She has a lot of energy and intensity,” sophomore Stella Cliffe said. “She is very focused on helping our team get to the next level, she’s a great addition to the team.”

Junior Shristi Slaria said she keeps the team motivated. h

“Sometimes if we are just talking to each other or taking a longer break, she will come up and say hey let’s go, let’s play,” junior Shristi Slaria said.

The next time the Panthers will be in action is Oct. 21 at the ISU Fall Tournament in Normal.

Contreras might see action sooner than that though. The bracket, as well as attendees for the ITA Midwest Regional at the University of Michigan Oct. 12-17, will be announced next week.

Parker Valentine can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]