ASU women's tennis freshman Patricija Spaka hails from the European country of Latvia, a small country on the Baltic Sea bordering Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania. As a Sun Devil, Spaka is proving her hometown doubters wrong as she takes down every opponent she faces.
While Spaka has become a fan-favorite in Tempe, adopting the "Sparky" nickname, not everyone was on her side during her transition from Europe to America.
Spaka had to overcome the obstacles of living in a small country, where people told her growing up in Latvia meant she wouldn't get recruited and was wasting her time playing tennis.
"Actually, that made me stronger," Spaka said. "I realized that I have to show myself that I'm better and good enough for this. I feel like the anger that I had for those people who told me that was the biggest motivation."
Even though Spaka first picked up a tennis racket when she was four years old, she didn't play in a proper facility until she was 15. Through middle school and high school, Spaka trained in small recreational centers and high school basketball gyms, and still became a Latvian Women's National Champion and Junior National Champion.
Being the sole freshman on the roster, she is shattering expectations through the beginning half of her first season. Spaka is 8-0 in singles and 4-0 in doubles paired with senior Domenika Turkovic.
Spaka has been determined to succeed at tennis her entire life. When she was just 5, she gave dancing a shot but walked out halfway through the first class because dancing wasn't as fun as tennis.
"I'm trying to show that people from small countries are sometimes stronger than other people because we have been going through a lot of things that other people haven't gone through," she said.
The Latvian native credits her success to her first tennis coach, Olga Morozova, who taught her how to stay mentally strong and motivated.
"Her ambitions were way higher than ours," Spaka said. "Even though we were just 5 and a half years old, she just wanted to make us strong and independent."
Spaka has played mostly at the six spot but has obviously made the most of her opportunity. Head coach Sheila McInerney said she wasn't surprised with the freshman's hot start.
"We know she's a really good player, and she's probably playing a little bit lower in the lineup, which I think is good," McInerney said. "Sometimes when you bring a freshman in like that, it gives them confidence, which I think is really important."
"We're definitely going to expect a lot of her in the coming years for sure," McInerney said. "She's already delivered."
Her doubles partner, Turkovic, said the sky's the limit for her partner.
"She could easily be playing top three in the lineup," Turkovic said. "She's going to play higher in the next few years."
As the Sun Devils prepare for conference play, the duo set a goal to stay undefeated and make the NCAA Tournament.
"In doubles, she can be the best player in college," Turkovic said. "She's not scared of doing anything."
Spaka won't back down from anything because she has already proven herself to Sun Devil fans and her childhood doubters.
"If I can do it, why can't others do it? I think my story is helpful for other people to show that everything's possible. Which is true," Spaka said.