Childhood friends journey from Spain to play tennis at Campbell

David Clavera (left) and Josep Baro
David Clavera (left) and Josep Baro

By Jonathan Davidson
Athletics Media Services
Student Assistant

Most people don't get the chance to take the journey of a lifetime with their best friend, but Campbell men's tennis players Josep Baro and David Clavera are the exception. Nervous and scared about the future, the duo decided to leave their small hometown of Granollers, Spain and travel thousands of miles away to play tennis for the Camels. The journey would be more beneficial than they ever would have imagined.

The love for tennis started at a very early age for both men. Clavera began playing when he was just four years old. His father, Josep Clavera, was an avid tennis player and David's earliest memories of the game were watching his father and uncle play at a small country club in Granollers. Naturally, he was curious and wanted to try to play the game that his father loved so much.

"I started going with my father and uncle to the country club when I was four or five years old," said Clavera. "The game looked fun, so I started practicing while they played, and then my father would hit balls with me after they were done."

Like Clavera, Baro found his love of tennis through his family. His grandfather owned a tennis club in Spain, and all of his family owned and operated it. Baro grew up around the club, and it was destiny that he would fall in love with the sport.

"My dad later on took over as president of the tennis club when I was younger, and I would spend all my days there," said Baro. "In the summer when we didn't have school I would get there about 9 in the morning and not leave till 9 at night. I would always be hitting balls or playing practice games with other kids. That's where I got my love of tennis."

Both men's passion for the sport led them to enroll at the Les Cumella Tennis Academy in Granollers at age 14. The academy is designed to take aspiring young tennis players and train them to take their game to the next level.

Baro and Clavera would arrive at the academy at 7:00 am and train until 1:00 pm. Following a short lunch break, they would spend the afternoon in classes, and then return to the courts in the evening for more practices.

"The coaches were so into tennis at the academy, and worked us so hard to make us better," said Baro. "You could really just focus on tennis. We would go and spend 12 hours there either practicing or working out in the gym. It was really helpful for us."

Clavera and Baro had known each other since they were little, but really became close friends at the academy. The guys had an instant connection, and their competitive drive pushed each other to be the best that they could be.

"We would play each other several times at the academy and sometimes he would win and sometimes I would win," said Clavera. "It was good for us. We helped each other out a lot. We would improve because one was a little better than the other, so we would make each other better."

At the academy, the duo met Marc Sifre. Sifre, also from Granollers, played tennis at Campbell, and would come home and train in the summer time at Baro's family tennis club. The guys had an instant connection with him, and he began selling the guys on the idea of coming to play at Campbell.

"When I was a kid around 13, Marc would come home for the summers back from Campbell and he used to practice with me and David," said Baro. He always encouraged us to go to college and play in the US and told me about how it was such a good opportunity."

Both men continued to improve throughout their teenage years playing at the academy. They won several junior tournaments around the region, and both placed in the top 350 in Spain. However, they knew that the prospect of making it as a pro was extremely thin, so they decided that playing college tennis in America was the way to go.

Once they started their search for Universities to play at in America, they remembered what Sifre had told them about Campbell, and decided to let the coaches know that Buies Creek was on their radar.

Sifre finished his four year playing career at Campbell in 2007 with 64 career wins, seventh most in Campbell history. Following his senior season, Sifre stayed at Campbell to be the assistant coach. He knew that Baro and Clavera would be great additions to the Camels, so he urged head coach David Johnson to begin the recruiting process.

"David and Josep first came to my attention from Marc," said Johnson. "He had good things to say about them both as individuals and as players and that's how the process began of recruiting them."

Baro and Clavera didn't initially plan to attend the same university, but they knew that it was a possibility that they could both go together to Campbell and that eased their nerves about traveling to America.

"We didn't know what to expect because we didn't know anything about America," said Baro. "We didn't know if it was going to be a good place or not. We were scared but excited to meet new people and experience a new culture."

The guys decided that Campbell was where they wanted to be, so they both decided to come and give it a shot. However, Baro's playing career was put in jeopardy shortly after they committed to Campbell. He suffered multiple injuries in a car crash when he was 17, and was forced to stay off the tennis courts for a few months. Fortunately, he came back from the injuries, and was able to still come and compete for the Camels.

"I remember the night before coming to America for the first time both our families ate dinner together with Marc," said Clavera. "It was sad and exciting at the same time. We knew the next day that our lives were going to change completely. We were kind of scared, but we started meeting new people every day and got more familiar with Campbell."

Both men arrived on campus for their freshman year in August 2009. It was a tough transition at first, but the guys were still excited to begin a new chapter of their lives at Campbell.

"It was great to have each other in the beginning when we got here and were trying to adjust to college life," said Clavera. "We have always been doing the same things together since we were 14, so having Josep here made it an easier transition."

Both men have thrived at Campbell on and off the court. Clavera has an overall 53-34 singles record and an overall 35-24 doubles record, while Baro is 36-35 in singles play and 49-34 in doubles play. They have also performed well in the classroom both being named to the all-conference academic team last season.

While their records speak for themselves on the court, Coach Johnson feels that the juniors have even more to bring to the team off the court.

"Since we don't have any seniors on the team this year they bring stability to the team," said Johnson. "I think their general demeanors are good. They are both good competitors, they apply themselves and work hard on and off the court, and yet they are still good examples and team members. It's not just all about them, they want the collective good for the group as a whole."

Baro and Clavera are what most college coaches strive for their players to be; smart, talented, and team players. However, they know that they never would be who they are today if they hadn't taken the chance of coming to America to play at Campbell.

"Coming to the US has been the best decision of my life," said Baro. "I have learned so much, not only about tennis but about life. It has made me more mature and I have learned so many things. I don't regret my decision to come here one bit."

"We have learned a lot of things here in the US and it has made us more mature," said Clavera. "I think in life if you have a chance you can't think too much about it, you just have to go for it. That's what we did and I am thankful for it every day."