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Sports without borders: International athletes thrive at San Domenico

Merritt Sellers
Vesta Juodonyte practicing badminton after study hall.

San Domenico School, a melting pot of cultures, has invested greatly in its athletic programs in the past four years. These student athletes leave their homes as teenagers and travel to another country to pursue their dreams and their respective sports. From soccer in Brazil to Badminton in Lithuania, these star athletes make a mark on San Domenico’s sport history. 

Vesta Juodonyte, an international athlete from Lithuania, is ready to take on the competition on the badminton court this year. Juodonyte has achieved many accomplishments so far in her badminton career, including serving as a judge at an international competition in Lithuania. 

Vesta Juodonyte playing badminton after study hall during open gym. (Merritt Sellers)

Arriving at a new school across the world, Juodonyte had few expectations of the team.

“I am just expecting to have a really nice and supportive team, and we can altogether  create something better this year,” Juodonyte said.

Juodonyte has been playing badminton since she was 11. When  her dad took her to try it out, “I immediately fell in love with the sport,” Juodonyte said. 

She loves how inclusive the sport is because it’s co-ed and there is a competitive division for everyone. Upon joining the team, Juodonyte was eager to bring on the team spirit and inspire others to share her passion for badminton. She is going out for the team captain this year and is ready to establish herself as a leader, hoping to bring the team to victory in first place in NCS Division 2 this year after they secured third place in 2022.

SD alum and former boys soccer team captain, Bernardo Atalla, thrives on his college team but carries with him his years at San Domenico always. Atalla was one of the first international athletes recruited by Tristen Bowen, the coach of the boys soccer team. Coach Bowen’s first year at SD, the team wasn’t as good as it is now. Bowen is an important part of Atalla’s experience in the U.S. so far.

“The way he conducts himself, I think, is a lot like how I want to conduct myself in the future,” Atalla said. “We are very similar people in some aspects.”

At age 14 when Atalla was still playing Academy Soccer, the team was trying  to get him to drop out of school. San Domenico became the place where he could continue his education and pursue his dreams of playing professional soccer at the same time.

Playing at Soka University of America now, Atalla found the standards and demands rose a lot after entering college . But it is not to a standard that’s beyond his abilities.

Alumni Bernardo Atalla playing soccer. (Sandra Velez-Lopez Sandra’s Sports Shots)

“It’s a very professional place,” Atalla said. “It’s a very high level, a level where everybody was the best in their highschool of the best on their club team.”

Atalla hopes to graduate in four years and play professionally.

This year, a new super power comes to the soccer field at San Domenico. Fernanda Passos, transferred from Brazil in her sophomore year partly because of Atalla and what he had to say about the school. Passos has been playing indoor soccer since she was seven years old. 

“My brother was really good at indoor soccer. He was also a goalkeeper so I used to train with him,” Passos said.

Passos excelled at indoor soccer and played on very high level teams. However there weren’t very many indoor soccer opportunities, so she switched to the field. Passos is both a hard worker on the field and in school.  

“It was always my nature to first study then play soccer,” Passos said. “If your grades are not good, you don’t get to play soccer.”

Passos aspires to attend a reputable college and dedicate herself to rigorous studies to get a good degree. Like other young girls in Brazil, she admires an accomplished female soccer player, Marta Vieira da Silva. Passos also takes inspiration from Atalla. 

“He is always positive and helps to bring the team together,” Passos remarked. “And even though I was the only girl in the team, he has never treated me differently.”

San Domenico has grown greatly with the support of these star athletes and their fellow recruits. Each student is supposed to bring something different to San Domenico, and these international student athletes have not fallen short  of expectations.

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About the Contributor
Merritt Sellers
Merritt Sellers, Head Illustrator/Social Media Manager/Reporter
Merritt Sellers is a sophomore at San Domenico and a contributor of The Panther Press. She enjoys sailing, sewing, and art.

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