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The Antelope

Difficult circumstances have molded UNK tennis players



For many young people, college is a time to venture out and explore newfound independence you didn’t have before. Whether it’s across the country or a few hours away, being on your own can be a hard and somewhat scary transition.

Anastasia Kuzevanova, Zhanel Turarbek, and Trang Tran know this firsthand. All three of them made the journey to America to have the opportunity to continue their tennis careers.

“When I was finishing off school my plan was to go to college in England, because my school was British, and it was kinda logical to do that,” said Kuzevanova. “But then I realized I am going to lose tennis and the ability to play tennis at the same level as I practiced before to be a professional. I realized if you went to college in the U.S., they provide you an opportunity to play tennis on a really high level as well as combining education.”

For many, including myself, the question lingers on how three girls from across the world found this university smack dab in the middle of Nebraska and the Midwest? Their stories are as unique as the individuals who tell it.

Tran grew up in Germany to immigrant parents from Vietnam. Like herself, her brother made the journey to the U.S. to pursue an education and play tennis as well.

She is focused on improving her tennis skills on the court but is also relishing the opportunity to get an excellent education.

“I still want to have a good education for my future, because I know in the beginning I won’t be like the Professionals or the top ranking in the world,” said Tran.

She found out about UNK and Nebraska after coach Scott Schafer responded to hear recruitment video on YouTube. After discussions with several other schools, she decided becoming a Loper was the best choice.

One transition that has been hard for the freshman is going from the city life to rural small-town Nebraska. 

“Nebraska is a corn state,” Tran said. “I’m mostly a city girl. I grew up in a big city and it’s a big change for me.”

Tran’s home city of Leipzig, Germany has a population of 560, 472 and the population of Kearney, Nebraska is 33,835.

Like Tran, Kuzevanova grew up in Europe. She was born in Russia and eventually moved to Prague, Czech Republic where she attended school.

The transition of being away from family was a little easier for Kuzevanova, who had already experienced separation from her family during her childhood.

“Ever since I was twelve, my parents would constantly be moving from Russia to Europe,” Kuzevanova said. 

“I lived in Europe mainly, so I had to stay home alone for months, waiting for them to come back because they had their work in Russia and I was living in Prague.”

Before coming to Nebraska, she experienced what life was like in the South. She played two years at Division I Nichols State in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

“Their personalities are much more open than Nebraskan’s and I liked that,” Kuzevanova said. “At the same time, everybody in Nebraska is nice.”

Even though Kuzaenova said she is used to being away from home, she admitted it can still be difficult at times.

“Not seeing my family is the hardest part, because I stayed here for the Christmas break and I am planning on staying here in the summer as well to take an extra class and that means I won’t see my family for like a year and a half now,” Kuzevanova said.

Entering her third year on the tennis team is Turarbek from the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. She is a two-year starter for the Lopers at the No.1 and No.2 singles. 

Her journey to Nebraska was in large part thanks to her friend Dias Meirbek who was a member of UNK men’s tennis team in 2018. He helped her get in contact with Coach Shafer.

Even after the opportunity to play tennis at UNK arose, Turarbek still pondered if moving so far away from her home was the right choice for her.

“I was kinda like should I go to the U.S. because it’s really far away from home and then I just decide to go,” said Turarbek.

All three players experienced culture shock coming to the U.S. One significant barrier for the players was the language.

“I was in culture shock because of the language,” Turarbek said. “When learning it in my country it was easier because the teacher talked slow.”

Even with all the struggles, the girls have encountered, they have grown abound with each other, their teammates and coaches, and the university.

“I really love my team, they’re the best,” Turarbek said. “My coach Scott Schaffer is amazing; he really cares about us not just as a coach. Hel’s like my second father. Also, the professors are really good here, I really enjoy every class.”

The Lopers continue what’s been a successful start to their season in Russellville, Arkansas against Arkansas Tech and Henderson State.

“I know what to expect from the season and know what to expect from the team, so I think we will be really good this year,” Kuzevanova said.

As Kuzenavona, Tran, and, Turarbek continue to face challenges on the court and in life, they will overcome them with the never quit attitude that got them to UNK and the United States in the first place.

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