Spanish baller fits in at Carbonear Collegiate
Spanish exchange student fits right in on Lady Sentinels basketball team
Mari Pez Garcia Gomez has thoroughly enjoyed her time as a member the Carbonear Collegiate Sentinels female basketball team. The exchange student from Spain loves being a part of the team and travelling to tournaments, and her basketball skills certainly have not gone unnoticed.
When Mari Pez Garcia Gomez steps onto the court with the Carbonear Collegiate Sentinels female basketball team, she’s not necessarily thinking in her head about wanting the ball.
More likely, the 16-year-old envisions a teammate passing her ‘el balón.’ That’s because Gomez’s first language is Spanish, not English.
Thanks to a scholarship, Gomez left her home country of Spain last fall to travel to Carbonear, where she’s studying for the full school year as an exchange student.
“I could come to anywhere (in Canada), but I came here,” said Gomez, who studied English from a young age and takes some courses back home strictly in English.
Coming from a small village in the northern province of La Rioja (an area known for its wine vineyards), Gomez has a familiarity with rural towns. The nearest city to her, Logroño, has approximately the same population as St. John’s.
But she’s never had a winter like the one she’s experiencing in Newfoundland.
“The thing that we don’t have at school (in Spain) is snow days — it’s strange for us. That’s nice,” Gomez said with a laugh.
If you could point to one thing that’s made her stay in Carbonear particularly enjoyable, it’s being a part of the basketball team. It’s a popular sport in her home country, second only to soccer. Spain’s male and female national teams are both ranked second internationally to the United States.
“I needed to play basketball or to do some sports,” she said. “I knew that if you came here, the food is more (fatty), so I was going to get fatter, so I needed to (stay fit).”
She also had concerns about feeling lonely coming to a new place, but she fits right in with the team.
“I met a lot of people. If not, I was going to be alone. I met people, I could go away from Carbonear, I could travel and spend time in the Gander tournament.”
Gomez, a 5’8” forward, contributes plenty on the court. In 22 games this season, the Grade 11 student averaged 10 points per game. She’s also adept at hauling down rebounds.
“She shows up to practices regularly, works her heart out and she’s learned probably more English from basketball than her school experience,” coach Pamela Whelan told The Compass, adding she’s sportsmanlike and also a great student in general.
“I can remember the first game we played. She knew the signs, but when we were saying stuff, she didn’t really know. She really worked hard at listening, but of course, Newfoundlanders have a very speedy way (of talking). Sometimes she says, ‘ Pardon me?’”
Najaula Sparkes and Chelsea Parsons, Carbonear Collegiate students who assist Whalen with coaching duties, have a lot of nice things to say about Gomez.
“As soon as I saw her, first time walking in, I knew she was going to be a ball player,” Parsons told The Compass.
“She’s really good on the post, and she’s a good threepoint shooter,” added Sparkes. “She never shot a three-point shot until she came here, and now she’s getting almost one every single game.”
Gomez has managed well communicating with her teammates in games, though
The thing that we don’t have at school (in Spain) is snow days — it’s strange for us. That’s nice.
— Mari Pez Garcia Gomez
she acknowledges it has been challenging keeping up with the pace at which some Newfoundlanders speak.
“My host family has a really thick accent, so it was really difficult at the beginning,” Gomez said.
Asked what advice she’d share with someone coming to Newfoundland as an exchange student, Gomez reiterates the value of being part of a team. “It’s really great,” she said. As the school year winds down, Gomez and her teammates still have plenty of basketball left to play. The regional school sports tournament starts March 4 at Laval High School in Placentia. Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association provincials are also on the horizon in April.
Members of the Carbonear Collegiate Sentinels female basketball team hold up their beloved Spanish teammate Mari Pez Garcia Gomez for a photo.
Mari Pez Garcia Gomez, far right, has proven to be an important contributor to her team’s success, averaging 10 points per game.