"In union, there is strength," is an accurate phrase to summarize how the New Mexico State senior tennis players Manon Sylvain and Natalia Salum view their upcoming season.
Looking back on the past three years at NM State, both athletes have had their ups and downs but they have a similar objective in mind this year: to be nationally recognized as a team.
"I would love to win against a ranked team," Salum said.
A native of Durango, Mexico, Natalia Salum has come a long way in the past three years, making her junior year one of her finest. She made a complete turnaround from her sophomore year improving from 11-18 singles to 12-5.
Playing doubles was also a strong suit of hers last season; she teamed up with freshman Ros-Polly Nguyen and they went 13-3 together.
"I like the atmosphere on the team. We really motivate each other and that's what motivates me to win my matches," Sylvain said.
Manon Sylvain, from Valence, France, also had an incredible season as a junior, proving to be a reliable anchor and switching between the No.1 and 2 spot throughout the year.
She finished off last season with a 10-14 overall singles record and was the only Aggie named to the all-tournament team in singles or doubles. She was also recognized on the second team All-WAC in doubles in 2010.
Their journeys to dedication and accomplishment in tennis started at young ages. Sylvain started playing tennis at three-and-a-half-years-old and at first didn't like it, but as she got older and participated in tournaments she eventually found her niche.
Sylvain attended a boarding school to dedicate more time to tennis from ages 12 to 17, then went back home for her senior year to commit more of her time to studies.
She competed in several international tournaments and was even selected to represent France at the Nike Tour Tournament in Paris, where she progressed to the semifinals.
An Aggie tennis alumni and friend of Sylvain's got into contact with her during her senior year and helped her connect with then assistant coach, now head coach, Ivan Fernandez.
Her desire to go to the United States and the opportunity to play her favorite sport soon led to her being welcomed onto the team.
"It was not hard for me to feel at home here," Sylvain said.
All the women of the NM State tennis team are from different parts of the world, making for a culturally diverse team. Sylvain said that all her teammates know what it is like to be in a new country so they are very helpful in making the newcomers feel welcome.
"We all like to hang out together and support each other. The girls are something really special to me...like sisters," Salum said.
Salum has been playing tennis for 12 years. She tried soccer around the age of five and because there was no girls' team, she was the only girl on the boys' team.
After hurting her knee when playing soccer, her mother told her she was going to do a 'girl's sport.' She tried tennis one summer and liked it and she quickly progressed.
In 2007 and 2008 Salum was the No. 1 ranked junior in all of Mexico and was the individual national champion at the Mexico Team Championships.
She found NM State through an online organization called College Prospects and after applying and sorting through various offers, she decided to become an Aggie.
"I have friends on other teams in the United States and their teams are not as united as ours," Salum said.
Both Salum and Sylvain are dedicated to their team and look forward to reaching individual and team goals this season.
"I hope to have a really great season with the team and lead them as much as we can," Sylvain said.
Upon graduating, the seniors already have plans for the future.
Majoring in kinesiology, Salum hopes to attend a physical therapy school somewhere in the United States. Sylvain is double majoring in international business and finance and intends to get her master's degree in Europe.
The Aggie Invitational is the first tournament of the season and will be hosted at home. It begins Friday, Sept. 16, all day at the NM State Tennis Center and will last through to Sunday Sept.18.