Adjusting to life as a freshman and meeting new people last fall at East Ridge High School was a challenge for new student Elias Ramirez. That might seem like typical adolescent growing pains, except most teens don’t also relocate from Puerto Rico to Minnesota.
Ramirez made the move when his father’s work at 3M brought the family to the Twin Cities last June.
Since then he’s made friends and joined the East Ridge boys’ tennis team. There have been adjustments.
“Basically, the main difference is playing in 95 degrees and playing in 35,” he said. “I wasn’t used to playing with a jacket, so that was hard.”
Getting exposed to a climate more than 2,000 miles north of Puerto Rico, Ramirez even experienced what it’s like to compete on a court with snowflakes falling during an earlier match this spring against Forest Lake.
But perhaps the biggest change is the one Ramirez and his personality have brought to the tennis team, a group of guys that has been mellow in the past, according to coach Suzie Heideman.
“He brings a ton of excitement to the team, I would say,” she said. “We have a lot of serious players. He kind of gets them to get their giggle on.”
From screaming Spanish phrases in team huddles to hilarious one-liners during team talks, Ramirez brings out the personalities in the team. Senior Riley Pratt, who has played doubles with Ramirez most of the time, said the energy Ramirez has brought to the team was “much needed.”
“Him being here has made us all get to know each other,” Heideman said. “He’s been fully embraced by everyone.”
Ramirez was 15-4 as of Tuesday playing mostly matches at No. 1 doubles and a few at No. 3 singles. The No. 3-ranked Raptors were 11-2 during this time, with two first-place tournament finishes.
A tennis player since age 10, Ramirez acknowledged the good opportunity he has as part of the East Ridge team; his school in Puerto Rico did not offer tennis. The closest thing he had was playing in the Davis Cup and International Tennis Federation for his age group.
His best tennis shot, he said, is his serve.
“I feel comfortable with it,” he said. “I can put the serve wherever I want.”
It’s not just his serve that’s a threat to his opponents. His forehand and backhand are also good strokes, he’s got great hands and is always ready at the net, Heideman said.
“He’s hitting with a lot of touch and finesse … that a lot of high school players don’t have,” she said. “He’s pretty modest about his abilities.”
Tennis can be as much a mental game as one based on skills. Ramirez said he’s getting better at the mental side of things.
“I used to freak out when I was down,” he said. “My dad helped me with that, talking to me and saying ‘concentrate’ and ‘keep it going.’ He also told me ‘not all the champions win the easy matches.’ ”
His positive attitude must be shining through, because that is Pratt’s favorite part about Ramirez.
“I believe you can’t play with somebody who’s going to bring you down,” Pratt said.
But he might bring the court down with his dance moves. Ramirez likes to salsa dance on court, according to Pratt, “which is funny.”
Like any young tennis player, Ramirez has worked on learning the game and playing with different doubles partners. He’s set the bar high for himself this first season, too.
“Maybe win state,” he said. “That’s the main goal.”