Eugene Native Earns His Spot
To Eugene by way of…Eugene? It's been a winding road for Nima Movassaghi, one of the new faces to the Oregon men's tennis program.
After moving to Eugene from Boston with his family when he was three years old, Movassaghi first had to come around on the sport of tennis.
"I thought it was boring and wasn't one of those sports you played at recess," Movassaghi said.
Eventually, he figured basketball may not work out because "I'm not going to be very tall" and he found a sense of calm on the tennis courts.
"I used to get super nervous before basketball games but I never got nervous before my tennis matches," Movassaghi said. "I would think 'oh this is fun.' I could enjoy it and be myself, and not worry about letting a team down. It was just you versus somebody else. That was good for me and as time went on, it was what I loved to do."
Movassaghi spent the final three years of his prep career at Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, Calif., where he competed and trained in a graduating class that produced at least 10 guys that went on to play at a Division I program. Among that group of players were future Ducks Armando Soemarno and Ethan Young-Smith.
"When I started playing tennis in middle school, I would go watch the team's home matches and really looked up to a lot of those players," Movassaghi said. "But when I went to California and trained in high school, my mind was set on going somewhere else.
"I loved the idea of being at Oregon and being a student-athlete at Oregon but for me, it didn't seem like a big possibility at the time so I focused my energy on other schools."
When the time came to make his choice about college, Movassaghi stayed in California where he spent his freshman year at Saint Mary's College.
However, back in Eugene during the summer following his freshman year, he said he had a turning point where he had to make a decision about his future in the sport. There were no guarantees in going across the country to pursue other opportunities.
That's when the comfort and familiarity of home kicked in and the draw of being a Duck proved too strong. Movassaghi had a new goal.
"I told myself 'I'm going to come home to Oregon and do whatever I can do to try and make the team.'" Movassaghi said. "I had no idea if it would work out but I wanted to put everything into it and I would feel good about it regardless of what happened."
Now enrolled at Oregon as a sophomore, Movassaghi started the work. He began training with former Ducks standout Daan Maasland (2012-16) and then built a relationship with UO men's assistant coach Arron Spencer, and Courtney Nagle and Elizabeth Lumpkin Robinson, the head and assistant coaches for the UO women's tennis team.
With those connections, Movassaghi was given the opportunity to become a practice player for the women's team during the 2019-20 campaign.
"That was another turning point for me because it was an opportunity to be part of a team again and have that tennis structure," he said. "It made me realize how badly I wanted to play again in the college setting. I think the world of Coach Courtney and Coach Elizabeth for the opportunity they gave me and how they treated me."
The Oregon women had just posted a 4-2 conference win over Arizona in Eugene when the remainder of the competition season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Movassaghi had time to reflect on the experience and now had even more motivation.
"If there's any chance to play with the guys for my last year, that would be a dream come true," Movassaghi said. "I'd spoken with Arron later that summer and a few weeks went by and I didn't hear anything so I started to figure it wasn't going to work out."
Head coach Nils Schyllander ended any anxiety with a phone call and simple message of 'welcome to the team.'
"When he said it, I was beyond myself," Movassaghi said.
It was starting to come full circle from all the Oregon tennis matches he'd attended and all the other UO teams he'd cheered for growing up in Eugene. His history with Oregon also dated back to being coached by former UO women's coach Tom Greider (1989-95) who Movassaghi credits for being a key figure in him sticking with tennis and not giving up.
"I have memories of me and my dad at my first Oregon football game so to think that my dad will get to be a fan at one of my matches at Oregon is pretty sweet," Movassaghi said. "This entire opportunity has been pretty neat for my whole family."
Movassaghi sees a familiar face at practice in teammate Brandon Lam who also trained at Weil Tennis Academy. Lam, a native of Santa Rosa Valley, Calif., spent the first two years of his collegiate career at Indiana before joining the Ducks before the 2019-20 season.
"In high school, we always talked about being teammates," Lam said. "But Nima ended up going to Saint Mary's and I ended up going to Indiana. But I guess it's been a funny way of working out because now we're both here and loving it together as teammates.
"Oregon is just a great place to be, and it's nice to be close to home near family to support you."
As the global pandemic keeps certain aspects of competition in pause, Movassaghi and his UO teammates who have returned to campus stay focused on preparing for what's next. Right now, the day-to-day as a Duck includes virtual classes and following protocols to keep practices a safe space. That hasn't kept Movassaghi from thinking about what it might be like when the Ducks are back in action.
"I grew up coming to so many matches here so the chance to be on the other side and be part of a match would be great," Movassaghi said. "You never know what it will really feel like until it happens but I imagine that first game day will be pretty exciting. It would be pretty cool if things get to the point where we can have a few spectators at the end and have friends and family there for a Senior Day."
"Wearing a mask is important to me because it helps keep our community - our town, school, team, athletic department - safe."
— Oregon Men's Tennis (@OregonMTennis) October 27, 2020