Who We Are: Helena Pueyo
Nearly 15% of Arizona student-athletes are international. Ask any of them and they'll tell you, moving halfway across the world to play sports is no easy task. It can be a daunting proposition, from taking classes in your second language to being a trans-Atlantic flight away from your family, challenges abound.
Arizona women's basketball guard Helena Pueyo is no different. The Spanish national chose Arizona over other offers and moved thousands of miles away from her family in Las Palmas de Mallorca, located on Spain's largest Balearic Island, Mallorca, in the Mediterranean Sea. Luckily for Pueyo, she found a new family in Tucson. Pueyo, along with the numerous other international student-athletes on campus, is a shining example of Arizona's global commitment to cultivating a sense of belonging for international student-athletes as outlined in the first pillar of Arizona's Wildcat Way Strategic Plan.
"Being a Wildcat is being a part family, I have a lot of trust in my teammates and coaches and I like that feeling," said Pueyo. "When I came on my visit, it just felt like a big family so I knew I wanted to come to Arizona. It was hard to move away from my family, but that's what I chose so I have to just show up and do my job."
Not only did Pueyo find that sense of family in the women's basketball program, but also the community of Tucson who has rallied around the Cats, making McKale one of the hardest places to play in the country and making international players feel more at home.
"I don't have words for it," said Pueyo about the outpouring of support the basketball squad has received. "I've never experienced anything like that before, and I hope this season we can take that next step for our fans."
On top of an international move, Pueyo has also had to adjust to a new style of play – the more physical, deliberate style of play found in the NCAA versus the fast-paced finesse game of Europe.
"The biggest difference is the physicality" said Pueyo, "I'm trying to push myself hard in the weight room and working on being a smarter player."
Smarter she has become. One of the biggest improvements in Pueyo's game has been her ability to take care of the ball. During her freshman season, the Spanish national averaged 1.3 turnovers per game before cutting that number to 0.8 during the Cats 2020-21 season and run to the national championship game.
Pueyo has been a key piece of Arizona's success during her two years in Tucson. Usually one of the first Wildcat's off the bench, Pueyo has accepted and embraced a role that many with her resume might see as beneath them. After all, she helped lead Spain to a bronze medal at the 2019 U19 World Cup and a silver medal at the 2018 U18 European Championship. Not only that, Pueyo was playing for Segle XXI in Spain's Liga Feminina 2, the second-highest level of competition in Spain, prior to arriving in Tucson.
However, Pueyo has embraced her role as a sixth-person and continues to grow and thrive under coach Adia Barnes' tutelage.
"That's my role, I know what I have to do, I just try to help my teammates as well as I can," said Pueyo. "It can be a challenge to come off the bench and play at a high level but I just try to stay focused on what needs to be done."
With at least two years of eligibility remaining, Pueyo will no doubt continue her global student-athlete experience and benefit from Arizona's strategic priority of cultivating a sense of belonging for international student-athletes within the athletic, campus-wide, and greater Tucson community by empowering them with resources and support throughout their collegiate tenure.