SPECIAL FEATURE (July 7, 2021) – The COVID-19 pandemic had a lasting impact on the world and still does today. The pandemic was especially difficult for international athletes at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU). Junior Caio Ravagnani, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, overcame multiple obstacles resulting from COVID-19.
Before the March 16, 2020, NAIA announcement that all sports would be canceled for the rest of the season, all spring teams played their regular schedules. The tennis team played matches against the University of the Incarnate Word, Laredo Community College, St. Edward's University and Howard Payne University. Ravagnani commented, "It was a shock to hear that the season was being canceled. We had a very strong team, and we were looking forward to continuing the season." The team had to abruptly cancel the rest of its schedule through the end of April. Ravagnani returned to Brazil after that, but he was able to finish out the academic year remotely.
Ravagnani was limited to perfecting his game in Brazil during the lockdown. The majority of tennis courts were closed, so he could only practice less than 10 times in four months.
He faced travel restrictions returning to America for the fall 2020 semester, which took a heavy toll on Ravagnani and his fellow OLLU Brazilian athletes. The United States had a travel ban from Brazil, so Ravagnani, [tennis] Vinicius Silva and [men's soccer] Luan Balestieri took a detour to Mexico - which had no restrictions. The U.S. required them to quarantine there for 14 days before returning to the states.
"I traveled with Vinnie and Luan, and we had to quarantine in unfamiliar territory, but we were eventually able to return to the states safely." Once they got back, all three were able to continue their studies remotely from their dorm room to finish out the fall 2020 season, and Ravagnani marked a 3.8 GPA.
The university, in compliance with city, state and federal requirements, continued strict COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, the athletic teams were still able to participate in limited activities in the fall, but all were required to be tested regularly and follow stringent precautions. No competitive games took place in the fall.
OLLU's athletes were required to take COVID-19 tests twice per week. Ravagnani and other athletes had to clear a temperature check before every practice during the pandemic. He noted that the dynamic of practices changed due to social distancing measures.
All academic courses continued online in spring 2021. Working closely with all medical entities, the university relaxed restrictions, but everyone was still required to test regularly and remain diligent through continued COVID-19 concerns.
OLLU allowed teams to begin their competitive season in the spring; however, fans could not attend any competitions throughout most of the year. Ravagnani and the rest of the tennis team were able to play their full schedule. The Saints traveled in two vans on their way to matches to ensure they followed the guidelines put in place by OLLU and the local authorities. The Saints tennis program hosted and competed in the 2021 Men's and Women's Red River Athletic Conference Championship Tournament in Helotes, Texas. The Saints finished in fourth place. Ravagnani played alongside freshman Malachi Farley (FR/San Antonio, Texas) in doubles and squared up against Gonzalo Vega from Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Before this year, Ravagnani tallied five victories in both singles and doubles during his first two seasons as a Saint.
Despite his preferred learning method in person, Ravagnani again succeeded in the classroom finishing with a 4.0 GPA. He will receive recognition from the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) as a scholar-athlete for 2020-2021.
Typically at the end of the academic year, Ravagnani would return home to Brazil, but with continued COVID-19 restrictions, he has had to remain in the states. The OLLU Campus Recreation department hired Ravagnani this summer, and he resides on campus.
Ravagnani grew up playing tennis with Silva and Murilo Salviato (SO/Araras, Sao Paulo, Brazil) when he was 12 years old. Ravagnani was extremely successful during his early years of tennis as the No. 1-ranked player in his home state of Sao Paulo. Silva was recruited and joined the OLLU tennis program one year before Ravagnani and Salviato arrived in San Antonio. Ravagnani received multiple offers from many universities across America but chose OLLU due to his childhood connection with Silva, his ongoing friendship with Salviato and his Catholic upbringing.
Before committing to OLLU in 2019, Ravagnani visited the campus with his mother. "She loved the campus and the tennis program," Ravagnani commented. His father also played an important role in his decision, noting that he traveled with him to various tournaments in Brazil during his teenage years. Ravagnani plans for his family to attend his graduation when the time arrives, but he does hope to get the opportunity to go home before graduating.
Ravagnani aspires to work for one year in America with his OPT (optical practical training) after finishing his academic and athletic career at OLLU. OPTs are granted to foreigners who graduate and wish to begin working immediately after. He plans to extend his visa and eventually gain citizenship in America.
With the hope that COVID-19 restrictions diminish completely in fall 2021, Ravagnani looks forward to a normal upcoming season with fans in the stands and with the opportunity to vie for a conference championship and a trip to the NAIA National Tournament May 17-21, 2022, in Mobile, Ala. Ravagnani plans to be a leader and mentor on and off the court.
Ravagnani and student-athletes at OLLU have been diligent in their studies, successful on their teams and committed to all health and safety regulations that have been put in place by OLLU officials. The university congratulates Ravagnani and all athletes for their dedication and perseverance.
The Saints men's tennis program enters its 14th season for the 2021-2022 campaign. The team typically plays a handful of matches in the fall and its full schedule in the spring.