by Eric Todoroff, Miami communications student assistant
When he is not eating excessive amounts of Chipotle or sushi, Miami men’s tennis senior Omar Aly can be found on the courts of the Neil Schiff Tennis Center practicing for his final season as a Hurricane.
Aly’s journey to Miami began in his hometown of Edmond, Okla., a suburb of Oklahoma City that he calls comparable to Coral Gables and downtown Miami. At 14, Aly moved to Tulsa to attend a tennis academy and after two years, he transplanted once again, this time to Boca Raton—just 55 minutes north of the University of Miami.
Current Miami men’s tennis head coach Mario Rincon noticed Aly, then a five-star recruit, at a tournament and within months, he was a student at the University of Miami.
At first, there was an immediate culture shock for Aly when he first relocated to Coral Gables as locals and students began mistaking his Egyptian ethnicity for Hispanic, sparking some uncomfortable situations for a freshman from Oklahoma.
“Everyone thinks I’m Spanish, so when they initially start talking to me, it’s usually in Spanish,”Aly explained. “I sit there and let them finish their sentence, or whatever it is they’re saying, and then I say, ‘No hablo español.’”
But the type of transition Aly had to adjust to in Miami, he had experienced already growing up in a Muslim household in Edmond. Due to his family’s religious beliefs, Aly could not attend slumber parties or take part in certain activities during the winter holidays.
“Compared to my friends in Oklahoma, it was different culturally because of where my dad grew up [in Egypt],” Aly said. “It’s a Muslim culture and it’s different when you have that bringing you up as opposed to being Christian. And for me it wasn’t really about religion, I just wanted to go hang out with friends.”
Despite the obvious language barrier for him in South Florida, Aly still said the most difficult aspect of his move to Miami were the variances of the Hispanic culture and the pace of the lifestyle, which he described as being much faster.
Aly’s relationship with fellow senior teammate Diego Soto has aided in his assimilation into the intricacies of Miami culture. Soto, a native of Spain, arrived at the University of Miami not knowing any English and was only fluent in Spanish.
“I helped Diego when he first got here, he knew ‘hello’ and ‘how are you,’” recalled Aly. “I was basically with him all the time, so little by little he picked up more and more. And once he got his base down he just learned super fast.”
Just as he has evolved to the culture around him, Aly’s goals and expectations on the tennis court have changed since he arrived at Miami as a freshman. In his rookie season, Aly was focused on just entering a lineup with five seniors already on the roster. He met that goal, eventually earning playing time in doubles, proving to the coaching staff that he could compete at a Division I level.
Now a senior, Aly has marked a bullseye on reaching the NCAA Championships, but enjoying his final year as a Cane is still a priority.
“This is my last year playing, so my first goal is to have as much fun as I can and if I do that, then that translates into me winning more matches,” Aly said. “The second goal is getting to the NCAAs, that’s a big goal—the top long-term goal.”
One of only three seniors on the team, Aly has become a leader for Miami on the court and in the classroom. An economics major with a psychology minor, he was named a UM Book Buster and to the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for a GPA of 3.2 or higher.
“When I see them [underclassmen] doing something they’re not supposed to, or if I see that they can improve in one area of their game, I let them know,” he explained. “It’s tough coming out here everyday and giving 100 percent, so I like to encourage them a lot and keep that energy high when we’re out here.”
Four years, 1,496 miles, more than 80 matches and one new language later, Omar Aly has adapted to every situation he has faced as a Hurricane and will do the same wherever his career leads him.