Sofia Munera (Pereira, Colombia), a sophomore on the Virginia women’s tennis team, was having a solid second season for the Cavaliers when the season abruptly ended. She had been nationally-ranked in singles and doubles and clinched four victories for Virginia on the way to a 10-5 team record and a national-ranking of No. 11 in the ITA Women’s Tennis Team Rankings. Hoos Life caught up with the sophomore from her hometown in Colombia as she reflects on the season and looks ahead to returning to Grounds.
Q: What was the experience like when you learned the season was ending early in March? Take us through that from your perspective.
Munera: We were in Orlando preparing to play against Northwestern. That morning before practice, the coaches walked into the house and told us that the match was cancelled. We were a little upset, but we still practiced that morning. Later that day, we found out about the season being called off through social media. The house went silent. Then, it got very emotional and we all started crying with our seniors. It was very heartbreaking.
It was the first time we were staying in a house and it was nice to just be there with everyone. It was sad because we were playing so well and had been working so hard all season. Things were starting to come together and we were getting better and better. Obviously, it was hard to see the seniors end their season. It was hard to think because it just didn’t seem real.
Q: What went into your decision to return to Colombia when the season was ended due COVID-19? What prompted the decision and what was the experience like to get back home at that time?
Munera: I decided to return to Colombia primarily because the borders were going to close for an indefinite period. The uncertainty of not knowing when I would see my parents again made me very nervous. The flight went well. After I arrived, I had to self-quarantine for 14 days.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a decision that had to be made quickly. My parents didn’t really want me to come back. I was kind of scared and wanted to be with my parents. I knew borders would likely close and I didn’t know how long that would remain in place or when the next time I would see them. They wanted me to stay because they felt if something happened there might be more resources available for me in Charlottesville and better care and they didn’t want me going into an airport, but then the parental instinct kicked in and they were like “come back to us”.
I got a direct flight from Washington, D.C. to Panama and there weren’t a lot of people on the plane. I had a whole row to myself. Of course, I had a mask and gloves. I was a little scared. Then we got to Panama and the airport was very full. The flight back to Pereira was on a smaller plane with two seats in a row. It was full. It was a little scary. People were coughing and sneezing. There was a lady across from me and they kept checking her temperature, so that made me nervous. They had people waiting to check your temperature when we got off the plane and then I had the self-quarantine.
Q: How have you been spending your time at home? What’s it like being with your family more after spending the last two years here in Charlottesville?
Munera: I’ve been enjoying my time at home a lot. I haven’t been with my parents this long since I was 14-years-old. My dad had to go to work after spending the first month with us. Usually, I just stay here with my mom. We’ve been doing Zumba classes together. We watch movies and just talk. My mom is doing most of the cooking, but I am there watching and trying to learn from her. I’m trying to learn how to make empanadas so I can go back (to UVA) and make them for my teammates and my friends.
Q: What are things you’ve been doing to stay active and ready to return to Charlottesville? What sort of challenges have you encountered with that, if any?
Munera: Our strength coach made programs for us to do at home so that’s been very helpful. I’ve also been doing Zumba classes with my mom. It’s been very challenging because of all the restrictions that we have here in Pereira. All my workouts must be inside my house, therefore, it becomes difficult to work on other areas.
I haven’t played tennis in almost three months now. Mostly I do body-weight exercises because we can’t really go out. It’s challenging because you feel like you’re always working out the same areas. I try to mix it up with more cardio on some days. I can’t wait to get outside and do more things like just go for a run.
Q: How has life in Pereira been impacted by the COVID pandemic?
Munera: My life in Pereira was always very active, I was rarely at home. Since the pandemic, the President has been very strict with the lockdown. We can only go out to get groceries but only on certain days depending on the last digit of our ID. Grocery stores are only allowing one person in per household. They just started allowing people to work out outside, but it has certain schedules so, for now, we can only do it in the mornings.
Q: What is something you would do, besides find a tennis court, if you could get out more than they are allowing you to do right now?
Munera: Every weekend, my parents and I would try to get out and travel. There are so many little towns in the area and we would try to get out there and travel and go to eat. One of the little towns here is Salento and it’s pretty famous. Lots of people travel from all around to go there. It’s about 30 minutes away.
Q: What is your hometown of Pereira like normally and what is life like there now? It’s a coffee region, so is that a big part of things and is there a distinct difference between the way people enjoy coffee here compared to at home?
Munera: Pereira is just beautiful. Every time I come here I picture all of the things I can do. The landscapes are so beautiful. There are a lot of little towns you can go visit. Everyone here is very nice and very warm.
So, I didn’t drink coffee before going to college. I started drinking Starbucks and things like that, but never did that here at home. Here we have places where you make your own coffee and it’s the whole experience. You go pick your coffee beans, roast them and grind them. You go through the whole process and then drink your coffee. Coffee is an essential here. Everywhere you go they have coffee and it’s what they offer you. In every home, they have coffee and that’s the thing they offer guests. They have Starbucks and things like that, but a lot of places here you can just get coffee for free. At restaurants after meals a lot of times they just offer you espresso or something like that.
Q: The season was going well when it was ended. What were your thoughts on the season and your performance up to that point? How did you feel about your growth from the freshman season to your sophomore season?
Munera: This season was going great. I thought our team this season was very special. We loved each other and you could see that in our matches. I learned a lot from my freshman season and this season I felt like a completely different player. I started to understand my game better and that made me a smarter player.
Q: What are you most looking forward to when classes resume and collegiate sports are able to begin again?
Munera: I’m looking forward to going to classes again and spending time with my teammates.
Q: What’s been your favorite moment about being at UVA and a part of the women’s tennis program?
Munera: It’s hard to pick a favorite moment especially this season because every trip was so much fun. I really enjoyed all the team bonding activities we would do before matches. My favorite moment was our trip to the kick-off in Kansas. Those were our first matches of this season and the energy was like something I’ve never felt before. I remember after our first match, Chloe (Gullickson) and I were crying because we were so proud of everyone.
Q: Is there a moment in this past season that stands out to you as your favorite or most exciting moment or most exciting match?
Munera: I have two favorite matches this season. The first one was against Tennessee. It was really exciting, we were down 3-1 but were able to come back and win 4-3. I was the last match and won in the third set 7-6. The energy was amazing and I absolutely loved having my whole team on the sidelines.
I remember all of the individual matches were really close and the others didn’t finish until I was getting ready to start my tiebreak. When I saw my teammates in that moment, losing wasn’t an option. I really just believed I had it. My freshman season, I lost the clinching match at Florida State and I learned a lot from that experience. That match really hurt. Remembering that feeling helped me in that moment against Tennessee. I thought I fought hard against Florida State, but I could have risked a little more. My game is about taking chances and I did that against Tennessee and it worked.
My second favorite match was against NC State. Natasha (Subhash) was the last match and she also clinched in the third set. It was very exciting to be on the sidelines with the whole team cheering for Tash.
Q: What was your experience like moving to remote learning and taking online classes? How did you navigate that transition?
Munera: At first, it was hard to concentrate on the screen and I struggled a lot with taking notes. I met with a couple of professors during office hours and they helped me find solutions. It was still challenging but I’m glad I was able to finish everything. I made lists at the beginning of each week with all the things I wanted to get done. That really helped me. When you’re at home, it can be hard to keep track of all the things you need to do. The lists helped me prioritize things before I would watch a movie or go do other stuff.
Q: How are you staying connected with your teammates and what challenges has this time presented for that goal?
Munera: We have been doing some calls. We have a Snapchat and we send each other stuff like funny pictures. With all of the protests going on, we have been doing a lot more staying in touch with calls and talking about things.
We’ve created a group chat that includes the new players coming in. We send each other text messages. We will have a call with them next week with games and things. We want them to see how close we are and start to get a feel for how we are as a group. I’m excited to get to know them more. Our team is in a really good place. We all love each other and we’re ready to bring them in.