TAMPA, Fla. – An unassuming woman stands alone in a Boston College t-shirt, breaking a smile whenever Katarina Gajic earns a point in her tennis game.
On the court, the Toronto-born senior is playing in a set that would last until the sun was nearly gone from the sky, as her entire team and that of her University of South Florida opponent, Paula Montoya, cheered and motivated their respective players from the sides.
The quiet, smiling woman on the sidelines is Gajic’s mother, Natasha, and this is the first time that she has seen her daughter play in a college game.
“We live in Texas, she was always saying ‘you guys never watch me,’” said Natasha Gajic.
On the other hand, Natasha and husband Alex often road-trip to Austin to see their youngest daughter, Juliana, who is a Longhorn at the University of Texas.
“Tennis has always engaged us,” she said, at the USF campus on Wednesday. “It’s kept our family together, going to practices and tournaments.”
Katarina Gajic won the second set 6-4, forcing a third. A loss seemed inevitable, as she trailed 4-1, but maybe it was seeing her grandparents in the stands that drove her to push hard and force Montoya to win the set 7-5.
“They are so happy to see Katarina,” said Natasha, looking toward her husband’s parents who flew in from Serbia to see Katarina play for the week.
Despite the hard-fought battle that ended in defeat, the tall economics major was grinning when she spoke of having her family in attendance.
“It was important for me, I’m just really happy that they were there,” said Katarina, “I didn’t feel any pressure, it just felt like old times, kinda like I was back in juniors.”
After Kat — her nickname called out by teammates as they cheered her on — finished high school, the Gajic family packed up their Toronto home and moved to San Antonio where Kat’s father is the director of the Roddick Lavalle Tennis Academy.
Playing a year in the heat after high school, Gajic decided on Boston College, partially because of the climate.
“I had made the move and realized that year after high school that I couldn’t play in that heat all the time,” she said.
Gajic is one of only 36 student-athletes in the Atlantic Coast Conference that will accept the Weaver-James-Corrigan Award this year. A ceremony will be held in Greensboro, N.C. to honour the top athletes who are bound for post-graduate work.
As she finishes her senior year, Gajic tries to inspire her team with her fun-loving demeanour.
“We play the best when everyone’s having a good time,” said the Eagles captain. “I feel responsible.”
It’s noticed, as Kieran Burke, one of her coaches spoke highly of her sense of humour and her influence on many of the younger players as one of the only upperclassmen on her team.
“She’s really funny, so having her around kind of loosens up the pressure,” he said underneath the Boston College tent, “She’s pretty even-keeled. A lot of the girls look up to her. Losing her leadership will be a bummer.”