By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 6, 2013) – Gabriela Lancman was a standout tennis player in Argentina who faced a choice in the late 1990s – continue playing the sport she loved or go to college.
Then she found out she could do both in the United States. One thing led to another and she ended up accepting a scholarship offer from Oklahoma Christian. That decision dramatically changed both her life and the OC women’s tennis program in a positive, long-term way.
Lancman, through her connections at OC, landed a job in the financial industry in Florida and now has a position that allows her to often travel to Central and South America. Meanwhile, OC’s women’s tennis program, which was in its development stages when Lancman arrived in 1998, has grown into one of the best small-college programs in the sport.
Lancman will be honored along with five other former OC standouts on Friday at the annual OC Athletic Hall of Fame banquet. She will be the first women’s tennis player inducted into the OC Athletic Hall.
“Gabriela was a real find,” said Stan Green, who’s now retired as OC’s sports information director but who helped publicize Lancman during her playing career. “In tennis, you’ve got to grow up taking lessons to be a high-caliber player. It’s not something you can pick up at 20 years old.
“She was a diligent student, tuned in on her schoolwork. She was a high achiever. That was her trademark. She worked hard at everything she did.”
Lancman took a risk by coming to Oklahoma Christian. She didn’t understand English well and considered waiting a few months to start college in the U.S. and attending another university. But OC coach Kris Miller convinced her to try to come to Oklahoma for the fall semester, so Lancman went through two weeks of intensive study so she could pass a necessary English exam.
She passed, enrolled at OC and immediately began making an impact, both in the classroom and on the tennis court.
Miller took over the women’s tennis program in 1997 and the Lady Eagles went 7-8. Miller brought in several international recruits, including Lancman, Luca Somorjai and Michaela Kratochilova, in an attempt to kick-start the program and the strategy worked.
Lancman and Somorjai were named as first-team NAIA All-Americans in 1998 while Miller received Intercollegiate Tennis Association NAIA women’s coach of the year honors. Lancman went on to receive first-team All-America honors again in 1999 and 2000 and was a second-team selection in 2001, making her OC’s first four-time women’s tennis All-American.
During those four seasons, the Lady Eagles went 69-19 and made their first two NAIA tournament appearances, in 2000 and 2001.
“She outlasted you,” Green said. “She would volley you to death. She never gave up on a play because she figured if you could hit it back, so could she. She just wore people out because she was such a steady player. She was a very tenacious athlete. She had a real drive to win. … She was going to persevere until she won.”
Lancman also was an outstanding student, becoming a rare three-time NAIA Scholar-Athlete and becoming the first Academic All-American in OC women’s tennis history. She made the third-team Academic All-America list in 2000 and was a first-team selection in 2001.
She also received the ITA’s Tennis Magazine/Arthur Ashe Award for Sportsmanship and Leadership as a senior in 2001.
“I was always very good in school,” Lancman said. “When I went to Oklahoma, I had already studied at a university (in Argentina). I was able to transfer a couple of subjects. Initially, it was hard at OC in English. But I like to do my best, so I took advantage of the support the professors at OC give you. I was able to manage the time between tennis and school.”
Lancman, a marketing major, took pride in her academic work.
“One professor wanted to give me a special assignment because he knew I could do more than other students,” she said. “That time was special. I also gave of myself to them. They knew how hard I studied. I was in the business school and went to a competition with the business team. That was a good experience, apart from tennis.”
As Lancman looked for a job after her graduation, an OC connection proved fruitful. Green’s son worked with a financial services company in Florida and offered her a job. She worked for that company for almost five years before taking her current position with Temenos USA in 2006, where she is part of the company’s professional services department, which implements banking solutions in financial institutions. She is based in Miami.
She still keeps in touch with Green and his wife, Betty – OC’s former athletic department administrative assistant – and with Bobbie Walker, who works in OC’s registrar’s office. Walker and the Greens will sit at Lancman’s table during Friday’s banquet.
“Bobbie was so nice to me,” Lancman said. “She was like a mom for me at OC. She fed me and was always very sweet. My mom was so happy when she came to visit and saw the way people treated me. She was so happy. I am happy I made the decision to come to OC.”