The Maverick Aces

Game, Set, Maverick Domination. Get to know the global talents of UTA’s men’s and women’s tennis teams as they reign as champions on the court and succeed as top students in the classroom.

By Jeff Carlton


Diego Benitez was hired for his tennis acumen, not his language skills. But for the head coach of The University of Texas at Arlington’s men’s and women’s tennis teams, the latter may be just as important as the former.

Benitez, who is from Venezuela and is now an American citizen, is fluent in English and Spanish, knows a little bit of Japanese, and can understand some Portuguese and Italian. His assistant coaches are from Argentina, Australia, and Japan. All are bilingual, at minimum, and some are conversational in at least three languages.

Their communication and language skills are necessary to work with a Maverick tennis program that, like UTA itself, is global in its composition.

For the 2022-23 season, the Mavericks men’s team had nine players from seven countries: Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Spain. Similarly, the women’s team had eight players, each from a different nation: Chile, Ecuador, Lithuania, Norway, Paraguay, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain. Every practice and team meeting is a mini-United Nations summit, every road trip a blending of cultures, languages, and international perspectives.

“To go through the transition of leaving home and coming to a faraway place, having to adapt to a new training system, go to school, and experience a new culture—these can be tremendous challenges for our players,” says Benitez. “We make sure to establish a culture of respect and discipline among the team. Everyone here is in the same boat, working toward the same goal.”


Solano Caffarena
Solano Caffarena


Serving Success

The Maverick tennis teams reflect the cosmopolitan spirit of UTA, which in the fall 2023 semester had about 6,300 international students, up from nearly 4,700 just four years earlier. Approximately 100 countries are represented on the UT Arlington campus; the top countries of origin include Bangladesh, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, and Vietnam.

In Maverick tennis, like in the University, the teams’ diversity, talent, and grit equate to success. The team is fresh off the most successful season in Benitez’s 18 years as head coach.

“This is the most successful both programs have been at the same time.”

His goal each season is to go four-for-four, meaning both the men and women win their conference’s regular season and tournament championships. In 2022-23, he came closer to achieving this goal than at any point in his two nearly decades at UTA.

The men’s team captured both the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular season and conference tournaments in the University’s first year back in the WAC. The women’s team won the regular season championship—its third consecutive regular season championship following Sun Belt Conference titles in 2021 and 2022—before falling in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

With the resurgence of the UTA men and the continued excellence of the women’s program, the 2022-23 season represents a two-decade high-water mark for UTA tennis.


Francisca Emilia Vergara
Francisca Emilia Vergara


A Global Game

American players have thrived at UTA in the past and surely will do so again. The 2022-23 Mavericks, however, had a roster that was entirely international.

“We recruit the best players we can recruit,” Benitez says, “whether they are from Europe or South America or right here in Texas.”

Collegiate tennis in the United States acts as a magnet for talented international players because it offers them the unique opportunity to play highlevel sports while also getting an education. Only the United States has an amateur athletics system, embodied by the NCAA, that is intertwined with its institutions of higher education. Virtually everywhere else, athletes have to make a choice: pursue high-level tennis or attend a university. Only in the United States can you do both.

“We recruit the best players we can recruit.”

“You don’t find it anywhere else,” Benitez says. “If you’re not in the United States, you either play tennis and forget about studying, or you study and forget about playing tennis. This is our great advantage in the U.S. and at UT Arlington.”

Francisca Vergara came to UTA from Valdivia, Chile, by way of Florida International University, and says being a Maverick has offered her a second chance at both tennis and an education. The motivation to play and study in America was so strong that Vergara took a crash course in English at age 16 so that she could earn a high-enough score on the SAT exam to earn admission to American universities. She did just that, in a language she had just started to learn.

“This is the only place in the world where I would have the opportunity to compete in tennis at a place that would support me both economically and with my studies,” she says. “In Chile, it was one or the other. It’s been a great choice.”


UTA women's tennis team
The women's team celebrates a victory


Maverick Journeys

Vergara and the rest of the women’s tennis team continue to prove that athletics and academics go hand-in-hand as theykeep excelling at both. The team has earned a cumulative team GPA of at least 3.30 for at least 15 straight semesters and has been recognized multiple times as the UTA Athletics’ women’s team with the highest team GPA.

Her tennis has taken off, but she also counts her off-court experiences at UTA as invaluable to her personal growth. She lives in an apartment just off campus with teammates and roommates from Romania, Lithuania, Spain, and Ecuador.

Far from home, the teammates lean on one another. Vergara did a lot of cooking for Ecuadorian teammate Ana Paula Jimenez, who didn’t know how. Slovenian teammate Tara Gorinsek excels at math and helped Vergara understand her accounting homework. “We’re like sisters,” Vergara says.

When she was looking to transfer from Florida International, Vergara says she wanted “a home and a family, and that’s what I found here. I feel so comfortable here. I feel at home.

“We support each other, not just on the tennis court, but also in our lives,” Vergara says. “If someone needs help with anything, we all know that we have each other.”

“We support each other, not just on the tennis court, but also in our lives.”

Solano Caffarena faced a similar choice as an Argentinian teenager. He considered turning professional in tennis but understood the long odds and the importance of a good education to rely on later in life.

Like Vergara, he took up English late in high school so he could take the SATs, a sign of his commitment to collegiate tennis in the U.S. At UTA, he has exceled on the court and in the classroom. This past season, he was a first-team all-WAC honoree in singles and doubles, and he earned the Maverick Club Male Student-Athlete of the Year award.

Caffarena also has received the College of Business Gamma Sigma Scholarship, the Jacqualyn A Fouse Endowed Scholarship (College of Business), and the Alcon Inc. Scholarship. He also was a member of the Goolsby Leadership Academy; Goolsby scholars engage with business executives both in the classroom and the real world through internships, exploratory study, and special projects. He called this experience “a vital part of my academic career.”

Caffarena graduated in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Business Administration and is now working on his master’s in economics data analytics. He also was recognized as a UTA Super Scholar-Athlete in 2022.

“There is no other country where you can play tennis at this level and also study,” he says. “For me, it’s always been this team that has attracted me. My teammates are amazing. Our cultures are totally different, but everyone treats each other so well. I couldn’t ask for anything more.” UTA


UTA men's tennis team
The men's team rejoices after clinching the Western Athletic Conference championship in 2023.


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