The Uva-Wise men’s team tennis has two new faces this season: freshmen Vladyslav Akimenko and Oleg Kopychenko.
Akimenko and Kopychenko aren’t new to just the tennis team; they are new to the United States.
This year is their first time coming to the states from their home country of Ukraine.
Head Coach Danny Rowland had his fair share of trials in getting the Ukrainian duo to UVa-Wise.
Rowland found out about the players when Akimenko e-mailed Rowland with a video of him playing tennis. Rowland was immediately impressed with what he saw in the video.
Rowland and Akimenko kept in contact through email. It took Rowland from July to December to get everything lined up to get Akimenko to come play tennis.
Kopychenko’s name come up about two months after Akimenko contacted Rowland. Rowland watched his video and went after him as well.
After everything was fixed with Akimenko to come to UVa-Wise, he immediately started helping Kopychenko.
Akimenko and Kopychenko had played against each other in Ukraine, but didn’t know each other well.
The months required to arrange their move were spent collecting the necessary paperwork, including visas and transcripts, which needed to be translated into English.
Akimenko and Kopychenko were both 17 years old during the process and had to take their SATs, which delayed the process a little bit.
It all finally came together when, on Jan. 10, Akimenko and Kopychenko flew into the United States and were greeted by Rowland.
“It was a transition. I was with them every day for about the first couple of weeks,” Rowland said “They starting meeting the team and other people in the dorm.”
The duo would have a couple of days to get settled in before second-semester classes started on Jan 15.
“They are very popular and likeable,” Rowland said. “They are so grateful and respectful to me. You really couldn’t ask for two better kids.”
Akimenko and Kopychenko were ready to hit the courts, but they had to hit the books first.
“The classroom was a tough transition,” Rowland said. “They struggled mostly with the comprehension early.”
The Cavs have already won more matches and conference matches on the season than all of last year.
“They have been great for the team,” Rowland said “They have made us a pretty solid team.”
Akimenko is off to a hot start in his first season with the Cavs, who seems to feel right at home at the Jim Humphreys Tennis Complex.
“Vlad is 8-3 at number No. 1,” Rowland said. “We haven’t had anyone since Henning Kuich [in 2008] to be that good. It’s tough to play number one.”
One could say Akimenko wears his heart on his sleeve and leaves it all on the court when he plays.
“Vlad is a very emotional player, very high strung,” Rowland said. “It’s the level he plays at and we have had to make some adjustments with that.”
Akimenko is no stranger to competitive tennis.
“I’ve played all my life,” Akimenko said. “I played in some tournaments in Ukraine. I was ranked fourth.”
There were are some differences between the United States and the Ukraine, he said.
“Everybody is friendly,” Akimenko said.
He also said the weather cuts down on practice time, with all of the recent snow and rain making it impossible to practice on the outdoor courts.
Kopychenko, like his counterpart, started playing at a young age and is new to American life.
“It so different between Ukraine and America, people are different, but friendly,” Kopychenko said. “The food is not so healthy.”
Kopychenko also said, like Akimenko, that it is hard to practice because of the weather.
Kopychenko said he appreciates that he is able to play tennis and go to school.
“Education here is very good,” Kopychenko said, though he noted how expensive books are.
Kopychenko is 5-7 on the season and has improved tremendously from the beginning of the year.
“Oleg is just now starting to come into his own playing,” Rowland said. “You can now tell that the weather is breaking a little bit that he is playing much better.”
The Cavs defeated Berea College on Sunday 5-4 in which Akimenko improved to 9-3 on the season and Kopychenko improved to 5-7 in singles play.
With two more regular season matches left to play plus the Mid-South Conference tournament at the end of April, the Cavs stand at 5-7 on the season and 2-5 in Mid-South play.
They have already improved from a 3-11 season last year and 0-5 in Conference play with the play of the Ukrainian duo.