Something as simple as a change in parking lots made all the difference in the sporting world for Julius Alvarado.
A Sauk Valley Community College sophomore, Alvarado usually parked his car in the east lot when visiting the campus as a senior in high school. One day in the spring of 2013, however, he parked in the west lot, within a few lob shots of the tennis courts.
There happened to be a men’s match being played, and Alvarado wandered over to watch. He liked what he saw, and thought he’d like to give the sport a shot.
Alvarado was primarily a baseball player and cross country runner at Lake View High School in Chicago, but he did play 1 year of tennis there. He expressed his interest in playing to SVCC tennis coach Sara Kipping, and as filling a six-man lineup is usually a season-by-season challenge, she welcomed the personable Chicagoan on board.
Last spring, Alvarado filled the No. 3 singles position for the Skyhawks, as well as No. 2 doubles with Jonathon Downing.
“I had the endurance,” Alvarado said, “but I had to get the precision and become consistent with the game. Hitting the ball and learning the technique was the biggest thing. It wasn’t that hard, figuring it out.”
In the winter, Alvarado took lessons at the Westwood Sports Complex in Sterling. He was ready to go when the current season rolled around, and he’s excited with where his game is at.
“When the season came, what I’ve loved the most is watching myself improve,” Alvarado said. “You also have to have a great mindset in tennis. One moment is all it takes. You have to stay positive all the time, or else you can lose the point.”
“He’s really worked hard on his serve,” said Kipping, who describes Alvarado as a “go-getter” and a “hustler.” “He just needs to get a little bit more consistent in doubles. Sometimes when the ball is in the middle, it’s uh oh, maybe I should have gotten that one. That will come with experience.”
Last fall, Alvarado pulled double duty, lending his services as an unpaid assistant coach for the SVCC women’s team. He hits with the team, offering pointers if he thinks they can help, and on game days, he’s right in the middle of everything.
“At first [the girls] didn’t know about it,” Kipping said. “After they saw him play and they got to know him a little bit, they were very respectful, and it’s worked out great. In matches, I can be on one court, and he can be on another.”
Alvarado’s mother, Ellen, was a student at Sauk Valley. He lives with his grandmother, Margarita, and step-grandfather, Jaime, in Rock Falls, and is on track to receive an associate’s degree this summer.
In the fall, he will attend DePaul University in Chicago, where he has been accepted into the physician assistant’s program.
For now, however, he’s enjoying his time at SVCC, enhanced by playing and coaching tennis. He hangs out at night and on weekends with teammates, often playing video games.
“It is interesting, being on a college-level team,” Alvarado said, “and it’s been a great bonding experience.”