Roberta Padalino admits her first three months in the United States have exceeded her expectations.
It could get even better this week.
A foreign exchange student from Italy, Padalino has been a key part of Coronado’s girls tennis team that will compete for the Division I state title this weekend. She and teammate Nikoletta Nikoloff also will battle for the state title in girls doubles.
The Cougars will face Bishop Gorman in a team semifinal at 8 a.m. today at Darling Tennis Center. Palo Verde and Reno will meet in the other semifinal, also at 8.
The championship is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday. The individual competition begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Darling, with the semifinals and finals Saturday at Gorman.
“I’m very surprised,” Padalino said. “I can’t imagine that I would be in state for the team and for doubles. Everything has been better than what I expected.”
A senior, Padalino started playing tennis at age 6 and simply hoped to just keep playing this year. She arrived in America on Aug. 1 and will stay through the conclusion of the school year before returning to her home in the Puglia region of Italy for one more year of high school.
Her host family helped Padalino find out about trying out for Coronado’s team.
“Once she came out and started, I realized she could play a little bit,” Coronado coach Luther Bohanan said. “It was a very pleasant surprise. She’s like a sponge; she just soaks up everything and learns, and when she goes out there, she tries her best to do what you ask her to do. As a coach, that’s all you can ask.”
And Padalino immediately fit in with her teammates.
“The tennis team helped me a lot,” she said. “When I arrived here, I didn’t have friends, and I didn’t know people. My tennis mates were my first friends, and all of them are very nice to me.
“I was curious to learn about American lifestyle, and they were curious to learn something about Italy. They asked me about what I do with my friends, or the coach wants to know what is the Italian word for ball or racket. They are curious, too.”
Padalino has a full class load at Coronado, including anatomy, physics, psychology, pre-calculus and U.S. history — all subjects that can be challenging for an American teenager, let alone someone from another country.
“My classes are not very easy,” she said. “The way of study is different. In Italy, we have tests, but we also have oral interrogations, so we have to study the lesson and then repeat the lesson to the teacher. Here it is more tests and quizzes. I’m studying a lot.”
When she wasn’t on court at the Sunrise Region tournament, Padalino often was catching up on homework. She also likes to cook and read and, like most teenagers, watch TV and send text messages.
“In Italy, we see a lot of American movies or TV shows, so I was curious to see it in the first person,” said Padalino, who also hopes to be a part of Coronado’s swimming team in the spring. “We are fascinated by Americans, but we don’t have an idea of what America is really like.
“The people here are very polite. They help you.”
She keeps in touch with her parents and younger sister via texts and a weekly Skype call.
“She’s just delightful,” Bohanan said. “I think it would be very hard for an American to go to Italy and do what she is doing.”
Foreign exchange students come to Southern Nevada each year, and a handful of them play tennis. Some have a great deal success, too. Mario Gamboa, a foreign exchange student from Mexico, won the Division I-A state boys singles title last year while playing for The Meadows.
No matter the outcome this weekend, Padalino already has the memories of a Sunrise Region team title and a runner-up finish in girls doubles in the region tournament to take home with her.
“She’ll be going home with a medal in a sport she loves,” Bohanan said. “She’s happy to be playing tennis, and she’s already exceeded her expectations. I’m happy for her.”