Zheltova aces competition

Katrina Zheltova 2:Katrina Zheltova prepares to hit the ball during practice on Thursday at the Rio Del Oro Racquet Club.:Mia Matsudaira - State Hornet

Mia Matsudaira

Katrina Zheltova 2:Katrina Zheltova prepares to hit the ball during practice on Thursday at the Rio Del Oro Racquet Club.:Mia Matsudaira – State Hornet

Mia Matsudaira

Sacramento State’s tennis program has a strong reputation for its outstanding talent. Among its athletes, senior Katrina Zheltova, from the women’s team, came to the United States to make a name for herself as a respected player.

Zheltova, a native of Minsk, Belarus, has won the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player award three years in a row. Her parents noticed as she got older, her energy level increased. Their first instinct was to get her involved in sports.

Although Zheltova’s success as a tennis player has progressed over the years, she admits she was never really interested in sports until she picked up a tennis racket 14 years ago.

“I liked it from the beginning,” Zheltova said. “I know that I don’t just want to play it for a few years. I know I’m going to do it for the rest of my life.”Zheltova left behind her parents and older sister in Belarus to play tennis in the United States. Her parents support her from afar, but it is difficult as they are half a world away.

“My parents see me now and know that I can play and really do it, but I have to do it for myself,” Zheltova said. “I’m not just going to start and then quit. Of course, sometimes you have bad days where you just don’t want to do anything. But this is basically like my job. It’s why I came here.”

Zheltova said she believes her determination to keep improving comes from the accomplishments she’s made over the years in college.”My coach told me that he would like to see me at No. 5 in the nation, or at least in the top 20,” she said. “This is my last year so I just want to do my best.”

Zheltova is currently ranked No. 26 in singles play.

Head coach Dima Hrynaska said he is proud to have had the privilege of coaching Zheltova over the last four years.

“I think she’s a good tennis player for the level that she’s at,” he said. “Everybody can try to be like her, and they can also see that she can help them. It’s so good to have players like her on your team.”

Zheltova said along with success comes dedication.

“If you want something, you want to go hard and you want to be better,” Zheltova said. “Some people think because it’s their senior year they don’t have to show effort. But for me this is my last chance, in college that is.”

When Zheltova arrived at Sac State, she did not speak much English. However, that did not stop her from achieving her goals – one of which was to be the best player she could be.

She did find a player with whom she could relate, though.

“I’m good with everyone,” she said. “I have my partner. She’s from Mexico, so we support each other. I didn’t know anyone when I came to Sac State, just my coach. It was a little intimidating at first but I like the girls and they like me so it’s good.”

Although Zheltova’s parents are not able to watch her games in person, she is content in receiving moral support from others close to her in her life.Her boyfriend, Andrei Siulzhyn, is from the same country and city as Zheltova.

“He used to be a wrestler in L.A., so we met up with each other two years ago and have been together ever since,” she said. “He supports me a lot.”

Not only has Zheltova become a better athlete since she’s joined the women’s tennis team, but she has also learned the importance of a leadership role.

“I’m the captain and I have to be a good example to the other girls. If I have to do things a certain way, I’ll do it not cause I think it’s the best way but because it’s best for them,” she said. “They don’t always know a lot.”Director of Tennis Bill Campbell notices that Zheltova’s character traits and leadership qualities stand out at every practice and game.

“She’s a team captain this year for the first time as a senior, so she’s working on her leadership skills. She pretty much leads by example,” Campbell said. “She works hard at practice and doesn’t fool around. She’s been that way for four years. She’s very dedicated as a top performer.”

Besides learning leadership qualities, the sport has also taught her more about herself, not only as an athlete but as a person.

“Tennis has taught me to stay strong. It has also taught me to be an individual,” she said. “I don’t like comparing myself to someone else. You can’t please everyone because everyone has different behaviors.”

Hrynashka is confident that Zheltova will be just as successful as last season, if not more.

“I think she has improved a lot with her game,” he said. “She started to be more consistent and smart on the court. This past year she’s showed the best results, and I think she will continue to improve her game.

Her many achievements will be looked upon as not only outstanding statistics but a major contribution to Sac State sports expanding reputation.

Zheltova said the most important thing she learned is to never give up.

“My dad always told me the match is not over until you shake their hand,” she said. “So I know to always fight “til the end. If you’re going to lose then you lose, but at least you know that you gave it your best.”

Ashley O’Con can be reached at [email protected]