The flame burns bright for Loaiza

Angel Guerrero

At only 15 years old, Ana Loaiza Esquivias represented her hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico by running with the 2011 Pan American Games Olympic torch in her hand.

The Olympic Games and flames of that time are over, but for sophomore Loaiza, the passion for tennis is still burning strong at Sacramento State.

Loaiza, 19, doesn’t tower over opponents with her 5-foot-4-inch frame, but her play has been huge for the Co-Big Sky regular season champions, as she has led the Hornets with an 12-0 conference record (16-6 overall) in No. 3 and No. 4 singles play.

“I’m really happy that I’m undefeated in the Big Sky, because last year I lost one match … it was tough,” Loaiza said. “Every single match is hard no matter which university, no matter what girl or line that you are in from one through six. I was focused, and that really made me play my game.”

This focus and determination has yet to catch the attention of the Big Sky in terms of Player of the Week honors, but teammates such as junior co-captain Alina Soltanici have taken notice.

“She’s been playing really well against all kinds of opponents. She never stops working hard. Even though she wins you might think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to work anymore. I’m good enough,’” Soltanici said. “But she’s always working hard, and no matter what her record is, she’s always going to keep fighting and play her tennis against any opponent.”

Loaiza’s dominance in the Big Sky hasn’t only been limited to singles play, as she and teammate Jennifer Ong posted a 9-1 conference record (13-4 overall) together and have recently earned the No. 1 doubles spot on the team over juniors Deimante Bulatovaite and Soltanici.

“She’s always been a very tough opponent, not just for us but I’m pretty sure for all the girls she’s been playing. She’s a fighter. She never gives up, and she’s going to play until the very last point,” Soltanici said. “She’s improved a lot since her freshman year, and if she keeps going like that then she’s going to be an amazing player—she already is—but she can get even better.”

This success from Loaiza hasn’t caught any of her teammates by surprise, as Soltanici notes that even in her freshman year she handled the pressure well in both singles play (18-8 overall, 9-1 Big Sky) and doubles competition (15-10, 9-2).

“First year everything is new, and you don’t know what to expect. I think I got stronger here, got fitter, and now I feel like I have more power in my shots,” Loaiza said. “I didn’t struggle much with the English language … we have a lot of tutoring and help, even my teammates can help me. Academically I’ve been doing fine.”

These efforts culminated in Big Sky All-Academic and Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar Athlete honors, which puts Loaiza, a psychology major, in the position to help teammates such as freshman and fellow Mexico native Sofia Wicker.

“The relationship that we have established has been great. We’ve become really close friends,” Wicker said. “We’re both from the same country, and that makes the relationship easier, but we’ve become closer because we have stuff in common, and she’s been a great supporter and helped me a lot.”

Loaiza might not have made it to Sac State herself if it weren’t for the help she received in Mexico from her father, Arturo Loaiza Martinez, who began to learn about tennis after his daughter took an interest in it at an early age.

“My dad started to learn about it and watch videos about tennis exercises, go to tennis courses, and he started to know how to get knowledge about it, and right now he is just an amazing coach,” Loaiza said. “I started to play at seven, then I got more intense around nine.”

As her intensity grew, so did the competition, which allowed her to eventually win a national tournament in Mexico at the age of 16, but this newfound glory and pressure almost caused her to quit the sport.

“There was a point that I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is too much, and I don’t want to play anymore.’ But then a friend of mine talked to me and told me there was a lot of opportunities in the States with scholarships,” Loaiza said. “I started to get excited … the motivation to come to college brought it again.”

This inspiration led to an athletic scholarship at Sac State for the Mexico native and has helped towards her goal of helping children just like her father, who runs a tennis academy back home, does.

“I’m majoring in psychology and minoring in child development. I love working with children. … Back home I used to give tennis lessons to little kids, and I really enjoyed it,” Loaiza said. “My plans are to go back to Mexico and work there with children. Maybe at a school or something where I can help them.”

But for now, Loaiza will continue to carry the torch for her country, family and teammates at Sac State.