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LIFE ON THE COURT: GABBIE ORLANDO’S JOURNEY TO IUPUI WOMEN’S TENNIS

LIFE ON THE COURT: GABBIE ORLANDO’S JOURNEY TO IUPUI WOMEN’S TENNIS

INDIANAPOLIS – Gabbie Orlando grew up surrounded by the ups and downs of college tennis. Her father, Gene Orlando, played college tennis at Ball State where he helped the Cardinals earn four straight MAC Championships and later became a Ball State Hall of Famer. He then continued to be head coach at Michigan State where he coached for 31 seasons and led the men’s tennis team to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013. Today, he is a volunteer assistant coach at his alma mater, BSU, where he has had the opportunity to coach some very talented players, including his son, Gabbie’s twin brother, Vince Orlando. Watching college tennis matches every weekend was a family activity.
 
Unlike some tennis players, Orlando didn’t start to play competitively until halfway through high school. In fact, Orlando played soccer and basketball when she was younger, and for a moment, she wanted to play college soccer. It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that she decided to play tennis for IU Kokomo.
 
At IU Kokomo, she majored in environmental science with a minor in political science and sociology. Orlando succeeded in the classroom and outside, she won 2nd team All-Conference once and 1st Team All-Conference twice. During her junior year she won River States Conference (RSC) Champion of Character Team, an award given to a player best displaying NAIA character traits including respect, responsibility, integrity, leadership and sportsmanship.
 
Gabbie was one of the many student-athletes whose eligibility was impacted by COVID-19. Halfway through her freshman year she had to return home and was granted a fifth year of athletic eligibility, but she never thought too much about it. Orlando was looking for options to attend graduate school and get her master’s degree. She then talked to some people who had attended IUPUI and did some research on the many opportunities the school offers, including being in the city and being able to do government work. Both her coach and father encouraged her to apply for IUPUI and use her fifth year to continue her tennis and academic career. She had some doubts, but she realized she had to shoot every shot she had to be able to attend grad school, so she emailed IUPUI’s Head Coach Pawel. At her last college tennis match, IU Kokomo played IUPUI. Orlando played at the No. 1 singles spot against Meghan Bernard, who is now the IUPUI women’s tennis assistant coach. This gave her a unique opportunity to play in front of Coach Pawel without breaking any rules. “I lost and didn’t get my hopes up,” said Orlando. “I was playing my last college match and thought I was done with tennis. Then I got an email, and I was back in it, so when the opportunity came along, it was surprising and exciting.”
 
As of today, Orlando has completed her first semester as a D1 student-athlete, and just like expected, she is doing great things on and off the court. Gabbie was recently named captain of the women’s tennis team. “I was pretty surprised when Coach asked me. We are a young team…a unique team,” said Orlando.
 
Gabbie is pursuing a master’s degree in public Affairs (MPA) and is a Peterson fellow, an internship given to students who are in the MPA program. The program consists of three rotations. She is currently an intern at Indygo and will later get to intern at the mayor’s office. She will conclude her program at the Indianapolis Airport. Orlando has an interest in working for the local government with hopes of working in environmental policy and urban planning.
 
Head Coach Pawel Gajdzik and Assistant Coach Meghan Bernard both referred to Gabbie as a hard-working person, with a big smile and positive attitude. Her teammates enjoy sharing many fun moments with Gabbie on and off the court. Even though they are freshmen and sophomores, and Gabbie is a graduate student, they have managed to build a strong relationship that they believe will take their team to the next level.
 
Orlando believes that in every athlete’s life there are many defining moments. For her, the decision of going to college at IU Kokomo is one thing that led her to become captain of the tennis team at a D1 college. “Every day you wake up and go to weights, that is your defining moment, it is very easy to just give up,” said Gabbie. “The decision of going to IU Kokomo even if I didn’t know it was going to take me here, but I was still working hard, and it still paid off. Those are the defining moments that change the trajectory of your life and your next steps.”
 
For Gabbie, tennis started as a ticket to college, but along the way she started to love the game of tennis. “My teammates at IUK really helped me with that. They just love the game for loving the game. We’d go out to play at 2 a.m. for fun and that helped me to fall back in love with tennis,” said Orlando. “When I look back at my athletic career, the thing I am going to be the proudest of is how I showed up for practice and matches. How I consistently gave everything I had, even if it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. That’s my biggest accomplishment.”
 
Orlando and the rest of the IUPUI women’s tennis team will host the Dayton Flyers on Saturday, February 3 for their 2024 home opener. First serve is set for 6:30 PM at West Indy Racquet Club.