By T.J. Stricklin
Auburn senior men’s tennis player Conner Huertas del Pino has had quite the journey to the Plains. The native of Lima, Peru, grew up in an athletic family. His dad played soccer at the University of Rhode Island. Both of his brothers currently play tennis at the University of Indianapolis.
“We played a lot of sports. We started playing tennis when we were young. It’s been that way ever since,” Conner says. “As hobbies, we always did physical activities. We played soccer and stuff like that. We had a very active lifestyle.”
Huertas del Pino grew up as one of the top tennis players in his country. He was not only ranked in the top 10 nationally throughout his high school years, but he also managed to capture a national title. That victory still holds a special place in his heart today.
“It felt amazing because there was this other guy that was number one at the time who always beat me when we played. I had a really good tournament that time. I actually beat him in the quarterfinals, and then I went on to win the title. It’s a pretty special memory.”
Since Huertas del Pino was one of the best tennis players in Peru, he traveled frequently, which not only allowed him to see new places and meet new people, but also prepared him for a future away from home.
“It’s always hard because I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss the food in Peru a lot, but it’s something I’ve gotten good at from all of the years of traveling. I’m used to being away from home for weeks, maybe months, because it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life.”
Although Huertas del Pino misses home, he has no regrets in choosing to attend college in the United States. In fact, he believes the decision was quite easy.
“I obviously wanted to get a degree for my career. There’s no better way of studying and playing tennis, which is something I love. That’s definitely very important. It was an amazing opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Huertas del Pino started his collegiate career at East Tennessee State University. His decision to transfer to Auburn after his sophomore year was mostly based on the classroom.
“I was looking for something better and more competitive in academics. I’m studying supply chain management, and Auburn has a very good program for it. It’s top 10 in the country. We’re also in the SEC, so we face a lot of good teams and ranked opponents. That was basically why I came here.”
Grades are clearly important to Huertas del Pino, and he excels in them. He proved that when he was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll last spring. While some might struggle to balance playing tennis and maintaining good grades, he isn’t fazed by it. He believes it isn’t a big deal because he has been doing it his whole life.
After tennis, Huertas del Pino plans to pursue a professional tennis career, and after that concludes, he would like to put his supply chain management degree to use.
“I’m going to try to play tennis for a year or two after I graduate and see how it goes. If not, I would like to work here for some time and then go back home and open my own business. I’m going to give tennis a shot, though. I’ve always dreamed of doing that to end my career.”
Huertas del Pino believes his playing style is unique. While he looks up to some athletes -- Roger Federer in particular -- he only factors small aspects of their game into his own. He believes his best quality is his competitive spirit. With that, his goals for the season are very high.
“For me personally, I would like to be the best I can be. It would be nice to get ranked and go to nationals. I would also be happy if I give 100 percent and am the best I could be. As a team, I would like us to go to nationals and be in the top 30 in the country. That’s a goal we set with coaches. I think those are very accessible. We’ll take it from there. I think we have the team to do it.”
Huertas del Pino is now acclimated to the college life here. Auburn, Ala., is a long way from Lima, Peru, but Auburn’s family atmosphere has certainly aided his adjustment. He attributes a lot of that to his teammates in particular.
“My favorite thing is all of the resources to do everything you want. You have a team, who are basically your brothers because you live with them every day. You’re on and off the court with them. It’s fun all the time here. You’re always sharing and experiencing moments with them.”
Huertas del Pino believes the best advice he’s ever received is to give everything 100 percent. As evidenced by his accomplishments on and off the court, it’s safe to say he took that advice to heart.
T.J. Stricklin is a student assistant with Auburn athletics communications