When he spends time in his Ecuadorian hometown of Guayaquil, Gabriel Garcia is just a short drive from both the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. Winters are mild, the other seasons hot. And he enjoys it all.
But the IUPUI student has found a home he likes in the heartland of America, playing tennis - and playing it well - for a Jaguars' program on the rise.
For him, it's a dream come true, even one that's 3,000 miles - give or take a hard serve or two - from home.
"I wanted to study abroad starting when I was 15 years old," says Garcia, who transferred to IUPUI a year ago from Mount Olive College in the North Carolina town of the same name. The 5-foot-11 senior-to-be enjoyed a successful playing career there, earning all-conference honors both of his years and leading the school to national rankings in its division both seasons. But the small college town of less than 4,600 people, located southeast of Raleigh, wasn't "home."
So he talked to friends, including former high school tennis teammate Javier Saab, who already was a member of the IUPUI Jaguars' tennis team. Saab's invitation turned into a visit, and eventually the transfer, by Garcia.
One record-setting, award-winning season later, the relationship is a hit for both player and team.
Garcia made a dramatic first impression on his teammates, his coach and the rest of the Mid-Continent Conference (now known as The Summit League) during his first year as a Jaguar.
He posted 21 victories in singles, second-best in IUPUI history and tops since the school joined the ranks of NCAA's Division I. Garcia led the league in singles victories and was named the Mid-Con's "Player of the Week" seven times, twice in the abbreviated fall season and five times in the spring. That made him the league's Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-league selection.