Tennis: Ogungbesan making adjustments, impact in first year


By Dan Sostek | Staff Writer

Pitt freshman Lolade Ogungbesan was a bit nervous boarding the plane to the United States last fall. Even though she had attended a tennis academy in Spain — the Sanchez-Casal Academy — for the past four years and she had her mother accompanying her on the plane to the U.S., her nerves rose.

“In Spain, I could go home on the weekends,” said Ogungbesan, Pitt’s heralded freshman tennis player from London, England. “Going to the United States, I knew that I wouldn’t get to see my parents at all. I also knew I would be really jet lagged, and it would be hard to settle in.”

After Ogungbesan’s mother helped her move in to her dorm and get adjusted, they said their goodbyes. Ogungbesan was a stranger in a strange land, having never been to America before.

But it didn’t take long for her teammates to take to the foreign underclassman.

“My teammates have really been taking care of me,” said Ogungbesan, currently 11-4 in her matches this season. “In the very first week, I would hang out with a few of them, and they would show me around Pittsburgh. They’ve been so welcoming in helping me adjust here.”

While she says that she has experienced homesickness on some occasions, Ogungbesan’s teammates and coaches alike have viewed her transition as seamless.

“I thought it would really be a lot more work to show her around, but she’s really taken the reins,” redshirt sophomore Katherine Castro said. “She’s now one of my best friends here at Pitt.”

Head coach Alex Santos, who is in his first year as head coach after coaching at the University of Miami, agreed with Castro’s sentiments.

“Lolade is such an amazing girl,” Santos said. “She’s done a great job adjusting to a new country, and it’s definitely helped that she’s had some experience in that.”

Ogungbesan spent four years at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain. The school is one of the most prestigious tennis academies in the world, with notable alumni such as two-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray. 

Ogungbesan is grateful for her experience there, and credits it for aiding in her transition into the life of a student-athlete.

“It was a really good experience. The routine was very similar to what student-athletes do at Pitt. We would wake up early in the morning and practice and go to class afterwards,” she said. “If I didn’t go there, it would have been a lot harder at Pitt.”

Despite the routine’ similarities, Ogungbesan cites some differences between the two environments.

“It’s harder here. [Coach Santos] is more intense than my coaches in Spain,” she said. “We played longer when I was in Barcelona, but here it’s much more intense.” 

She also noted how surprised she was at how seriously people take collegiate sports here in the United States, and said she was shocked attending her first Pitt basketball game.

Ogungbesan has shown no signs of trouble transitioning on the court.  She is tied for the most wins on the team with 11 and is just one of four players on the team with a win in the ACC.

Ogungbesan has met success off the court, as well. She is a published author, with her first book, “The Little Sunflower,” released when she was 8, and her second book, “Bus 65,” being published in 2012. 

Her resumé speaks for itself, and despite her relative unfamiliarity with the University and the city prior to her recruitment, she said she feels fortunate to be at Pitt.

Ogungbesan is hoping to major in some branch of science, and said her academic aspirations factored into her decision to attend the University.

“I had heard of it once before. I did a lot of research online,” she said. “What attracted me the most was the combination of the sports facilities and the science courses. It’s such a well-rounded school.”

In just one semester, Ogungbesan has become an integral part of the Pitt Panthers’ women’s tennis team, having garnered the respect, admiration and friendship of her teammates.

“She works really hard,” Castro said. “I don’t even think of her as an underclassman.