Balancing the demands of an engineering major and NCAA Division I tennis would be a challenge for any student, but Daniela Ruiz had another hurdle to overcome when she arrived at Clemson University as a freshman.

Daniela Ruiz, right, talks with B. Rae Cho, a professor of industrial engineering, in Freeman Hall.

Daniela Ruiz, left, talks with B. Rae Cho, a professor of industrial engineering, in Freeman Hall.

Not only did Ruiz have to adapt to a new team, courts and competition level, she had to learn a new language.

“I only spoke Spanish at the time,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz, a native of Beni, Bolivia, has not only adapted over the past four years but excelled in the classroom and on the court. The standout doubles player will graduate this month with her Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering and has already begun work on her master’s degree.

Ruiz was among 52 student athletes in the Atlantic Coast Conference to win the Weaver-James-Corrigan Award and will receive $6,000 toward her graduate education.

The award goes to those who “have performed with distinction in both the classroom and their respective sport, while demonstrating exemplary conduct in the community,” according to an ACC announcement.

“I just want to thank those who nominated me for the award and all those who have supported me in the Athletic Department,” Ruiz said. “They do so much for the athletes and everyone that comes from different countries. They provide you with all the resources you need to be successful. I just want to say thank you to my coaching staff. They have helped me to get here. My teammates pushed me every day to be a better person.”

Daniela Ruiz has excelled on the tennis court and in the classroom.

Daniela Ruiz has excelled on the tennis court and in the classroom.

Nancy A. Harris, the women’s tennis head coach, said that she knew from the moment she met Ruiz that she was an exceptional person. Ruiz has used her gifts of intelligence and athleticism to achieve her dreams and to help her teammates achieve theirs, Harris said.

“She is the supreme counselor and has a maturity that few people ever attain in their lifetime,” Harris said. “I am not sure where this gift comes from, but her soul is that of goodness and of a guiding light. She always finds a way to make time for a teammate in need.”

B. Rae Cho, a professor of industrial engineering, said that he had a chance to observe Ruiz in and out the classroom. He said that she is hardworking and trustworthy and that he has great respect for her work ethic and academic ability.

“Daniela approached every task with a good attitude in class and showed that she was a team player dedicated not just to her own success, but also to the success of her peers in the class, which was impressive,” Cho said. “I strongly believe that her great work ethic and citizenship, with a positive attitude and academic excellence, will serve as a catalyst for her future success.”

Ruiz said that her success has not come easy. In that first year, she remembers being lost in class and that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to return after year’s end.

But Ruiz hung on.

“I learned time management pretty well,” she said. “There were long nights and early mornings. But I’m happy I went through it, and everything worked out well.”

She was also able to bridge the language gap, learning new words every day.

Ruiz said she typically starts her days at 6 a.m. for workouts. School takes up most of her time from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then she practices tennis for 2-3 hours and puts in another hour of fitness.

On top of that, Ruiz has been in a program that allows her to take courses toward her graduate degree while still an undergraduate. She expects to have her master’s degree in industrial engineering in December.

Ruiz has served as women’s tennis team captain for the past three years. She has a 65.7 percent career winning percentage in doubles, a 73.3 percent career winning percentage in dual doubles matches and a 71.4 percent career winning percentage in ACC dual doubles matches.

Ruiz had her best season in doubles as a junior in 2017, going 19-7 overall, which included an impressive 18-3 in dual matches (85.7 winning percentage) and 10-1 in ACC dual matches (90.9 winning percentage).

She was a National Strength & Conditioning Association All-American Strength & Conditioning Athlete of the Year in 2017, a three-time Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar Athlete (2015, 2016 & 2017), and an All-ACC Academic Women’s Tennis Team member in 2017.

Cole Smith, chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, said Ruiz’s award was well deserved.

“Daniela’s journey captures the spirit of excellence that we strive to create in the department, and her accomplishments are genuinely inspiring,” he said. “I offer my wholehearted congratulations on her award.”