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Friends and teammates at every stage, Spanish players support each other again at Cal

California Golden Bears


BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - One is a small-town girl from Spain’s northern coast whose family once owned a world champion cow and today supplies milk for much of the country and parts of Europe. The other is a well-traveled city girl from Barcelona with the deep basketball pedigree as her mother played professionally.

Marta Suárez and Claudia Langarita first became teammates and friends a decade ago as they were just starting out playing club basketball near the countryside where Suárez was raised. They later wound up playing on the same renowned high school team before going their separate ways once more. Now, thanks to the transfer portal and a little bit of good luck, they are back together again on the California basketball team and are each other's support system as they play across the globe from family and everything familiar.

“The main thing is she just made the whole transition of me coming to Cal easier. I came very shortly after my mom passed so I was a little scared how everything was going to go,” Suárez said. “Just knowing her, actually like really knowing somebody here and being able to be honest and talk about stuff and then how she got me into the team and how Cal works, it made the transition much easier."

Suárez has emerged as Cal's second-leading scorer so far, averaging 14.2 points in an 8-2 start for the Golden Bears heading into Friday's home game against Eastern Washington. Langarita has been sidelined by a back injury but should be ready to play soon.

The two women began their basketball journey together at ages 10 and 11 outside Suárez’s hometown of Oviedo, then reunited in high school at Joaquim Blume Institute in Barcelona when Suárez received a spot for her final two years.

In Berkeley, they feed off each other. Like when it comes to the Suárez family cows, Langarita suggests they attend some feel-good “cow therapy, just to cuddle them.” Apparently it's actually a thing.

“She's just a country girl,” Langarita said, grinning. “I'm like a city girl. I like cows, though. I think they're really cute."

It’s remarkable they’re on the same team again.

Suárez chose to leave Tennessee earlier this year and returned home to Spain, uncertain whether she would be back to play in the United States. She spent eight months on the farm — having hardly been there since leaving home at age 14 to chase her basketball dream -– then lost her mother, Marisa, to breast cancer Aug. 14. She left for Cal shortly after.

Suárez is thankful to be in Berkeley alongside her longtime friend, who transferred herself from the University of San Francisco before last season. They share an apartment on iconic Telegraph Avenue.

Suárez's father, Maximino, is thrilled the women have each other to count on again. He recently visited and saw a game.

“I am not very involved in Marta's friendship but I think both are quite different but at the same time they respect each other very much and they have a very good relationship,” he said. “I would like very much that Claudia recovers for basketball as soon as possible because I am very interested what they, with the rest of the team, are able to do this season. Both girls deserve to reach their dreams in basketball.”

Langarita even hosted Suárez and her dad on the official recruiting trip last spring, hitting the popular San Francisco tourist spots like Pier 39.

“I didn’t expect it to happen,” Suárez said. “If it hadn’t been Claudia and was someone else from Spain I might not have come here.”

The countrywomen are part of an international roster for fifth-year coach Charmin Smith, who is working on her language skills to better communicate with three women from Greece. There's also a player from Sweden and another from Australia.

“It’s just been a really good group to work with and I think they enjoy the international flavor,” Smith said. “Our domestic kids enjoy that, so it’s just a lot of fun having diversity on the team and as a part of your family.”

Fifth-year point guard Leilani McIntosh realizes how hard it must be for the players far from home, and she's happy for her two Spanish teammates.

“I think it’s amazing being able to have a piece of home with you here, I know it’s not easy,” said McIntosh, now a graduate student.

Suárez and Langarita both deal with being homesick, missing the food and cultures of home, not to mention holidays with family and friends.

"I thought she was going to stay in Tennessee,” Langarita said. “I was the only Spanish girl on the West Coast. When Charmin told me I was really excited.”

For Suárez, this is a refreshing new start. She sat out her sophomore season at Tennessee two years ago because of an injury and then opted to be home through her mother’s illness.

Finding a comfort level in Berkeley has largely been because of Langarita’s love and care.

“The fact she knew my mom and my mom cared for her and she knows that, too," Suárez said, "that just made it a little more special.”

Article Topic Follows: California News

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