Ukrainian tennis star SAU hopes for a quick end to the war | Local News

Staying strong and hopeful is a goal for Marko Nikoliuk, a corporate finance student at Southern Arkansas University from Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine.

Nationally ranked tennis player Mulerider is competing this spring break week against top teams in Georgia and Alabama.

Nikoliuk has found a way to balance grades and tennis with concern for his family in Ukraine, where the deadly Russian invasion is entering its fourth week.

The 10th-ranked Muleriders, holding the highest NCAA national ranking in SAU’s young tennis history, defeated West Alabama on Sunday in Livingston, Alabama, but lost to No. 3 ranked opponent Columbus State. the team has ever faced on Tuesday. Nikoliuk was ranked 10th in the nation in singles and 13th with his partner, Sander Jans.

Nikoliuk, who previously attended Kakhovka General Secondary School 5 in Ukraine, has built an impressive tennis career in SAU, with an overall career record of 93-41 entering Spring Break, a singles record of 45-26 and a 48-15 doubles record. His accolades include being named the 2019-20 ITA All-American, the 2021 ITA Central Region Singles Champion, twice qualified for the ITA Cup, a CoSIDA Academic All-District 7 first-team winner, the 2021 GAC Vol 1 Doubles Champion, and a multiple-time all-conference selection in singles and doubles. Additionally, he holds several program records.

Having started playing tennis in Ukraine at an early age, Nikoliuk has enough experience to realize that a good game involves mental play. “In my freshman year at SAU we were a younger team,” he said, “but now we’re better prepared mentally. We practice hitting the ball, but on the mental side it’s different. Everyone has to come and fight. You may have a bad day, but you have to find a way to come back.”

SAU Men’s and Women’s Tennis Head Coach Greg Owen hailed Nikoliuk as “a consistent winner since his arrival. He really is a great player. He is relentless on the court, one of the pillars of our team. “

Owen called Nikoliuk “professional in the way he handles business on and off the pitch. He makes me proud to be a coach and I appreciate what he brings to this team on a daily basis.”

Nikoliuk was inspired to participate in athletics by his father, who played professional soccer and other sports. Marko started playing tennis around the age of six and decided around the age of 10 that he wanted to work to go to college in the United States on a tennis scholarship. He is now enjoying his college life on the SAU campus.

“Everyone is so nice, and Magnolia is a lovely town that’s similar to where I grew up,” he said. “Everyone knows each other, and it really is a family here.”

The tennis team supports many other events and organizations on campus, which Nikoliuk says is important. “It’s our job to support each other,” he said. “Before college I had no teammates, and for me tennis was an individual sport. Now I’m part of a team. You’re there for each other. You have friends next to you who, whatever happens, will help you.”

He noted, “At the end of the day, we’re all Muleriders and we have to support each other.”

Nikoliuk has enjoyed this support since Russia invaded his native country on February 24. “All my team-mates, everyone talks to me. Even people I don’t know say nice words to cheer me up. People here, they care.”

Although her father and brother are both outside Ukraine, her mother remains in Kakhovka, which the Russians attacked. “My father worked in Europe and is still there,” he said. “My brother was in the capital of kyiv; he left with his girlfriend, they went west to stay with his parents. My mother is in my hometown. There was shelling on the first day; Russian forces still surround them. She must stay, and there is no leaving.”

Although he can talk with his father and brother as often as possible, communication with his mother is more complicated. “They started cutting service, and the internet isn’t great. I can’t really call it,” he said.

He had to find ways to cope with the news from Ukraine. “In the beginning, I checked everything I could check. I was nervous inside. I could barely do anything and was trying to keep up with what was going on there. I wasn’t focused. , I wasn’t playing well. I decided not to keep checking like before, just to call my parents and try to stay focused. Life goes on, and I can’t afford to be depressed.

Owen praised Nikoliuk’s efforts. “With this unimaginable situation and all his concern for home, Marko found a way to excel. His teammates and the campus family offered great support through it all.”

The SAU women’s tennis team also has a Ukrainian player, rookie Inna Serukhova.

SAU President Dr. Trey Berry expressed concern for the families of both players. “It was wonderful to experience our SAU community surrounding Marko and Inna with love and friendship,” Berry said. “The people of SAU are continually reaching out to them with care and support in the months ahead.”

Nikoliuk said he hoped the war would end soon. “The best outcome is to end this as soon as possible. I know people, close friends, who are already not with us. It’s difficult. I pray for everyone who is fighting for us.”

He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had united the nation in unexpected ways. “Our president has been strong. We’re together, everyone as a nation. It’s his job, to give everyone hope for a bright future, including me.”

Nikoliuk will complete the requirements for obtaining the baccalaureate in December 2022.

He remains open to future possibilities. “My first goal is to start my own business. I have some ideas to make my dreams come true.”

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