From Russia to Pullman, Liudmila Vasilieva and her tennis racket found a home away from home with the WSU tennis team.
Vasilieva, a senior, will finish her impressive collegiate tennis career this year, but not before playing to reach the NCAA Tournament and break a university record.
With 102 career victories, Vasilieva, known as “Luda” to her teammates and coaches, sits just six singles wins behind WSU’s all-time wins leader Elisabeth Fournier.
Last week against Montana, Vasilieva earned her 100th career singles victory and became just the second WSU tennis player to reach the milestone.
She followed up with singles wins against Nevada and Portland.
Vasilieva attributes her success to never giving up on the court, no matter the odds.
“I’m a fighter, it’s just my nature,” she said. “There is no game like tennis where you can come back from unbelievable deficits only because of your fight.”
She also said setting the bar higher for herself, as well as expecting and preparing for success, has led to positive results she enjoys both on the court and in the classroom.
The chance to make sports history at WSU would be a privilege but Vasilieva will continue to root for future Cougar tennis players in their own endeavors, she said.
“I’m really looking forward to beating this record, but I expect WSU tennis to continue to improve every year,” she said. “If somebody were to beat my record someday I’ll be just as happy knowing that the program has become even better.”
Despite acknowledging that the record is indeed lingering in her mind, Vasilieva said team accomplishments such as WSU’s trip to the NCAA Championships last season mean much more to her and always come before individual accolades.
“It was a great experience to go to the tournament as a team,” she said. “I was so proud of my teammates and to be a part of that winning environment. Those are the memories that will always stay with me.”
Vasilieva came to Pullman from Yekaterinburg, Russia, where she first picked up a tennis racket at around seven or eight years old tagging along with her father.
Making the transition from a big city populated with more than 1,000,000 people to a small college town shocked her at first, but focusing on her studies and tennis career helped to ease her through the move.
“It didn’t make much of a difference because at the end of the day, I don’t have time for all the features big cities offer,” said Vasilieva.
When she first started considering college, not many coaches contacted her and she received few scholarship offers to play in the United States. In fact, she nearly attended a different school altogether until current WSU Head Coach Lisa Hart personally called her to explain the benefits of Pac-12 athletics.
“She made me realize that this was the place where I truly belonged,” Vasilieva said. “I knew I wanted to play Pac-12 tennis and be a part of the family environment where everyone supported each other here.”
And she does not regret her decision for a minute.
“I definitely think Pullman is the perfect place to develop as a student and tennis player,” Vasilieva said. “It has been a great place for me to learn and grow.”
Although Pullman is like a second home, she said she misses her friends, family and food in Russia. She resorts to the CUB’s offerings for lunch only when she doesn’t have the time to cook.
“I was surprised that American food is so unhealthy,” she said. “The healthiest thing in the CUB is Subway, and I just cannot eat that every day, that’s for sure.”
“For me, a sandwich is not a lunch because in Russia we have good dishes like potatoes with fish and soup and things that are healthy for you.”
Still, tennis drives her to work hard here at WSU.
Vasilieva and the Cougar tennis team are optimistic about their chances to return to the NCAA tournament this year and go even further than last season’s finish, which was in the final 32 teams.
“It would be an honor for me as a senior to go back to the tournament and experience it all again with my teammates,” she said. “I feel very confident in all my teammates and I know they’ll fight to the end with me and be the best that they can be.”
After graduating in May, Vasilieva said she hopes to train at a tennis academy in pursuit of a professional career. She will pursue her goal to reach Fournier's record during this weekend's matches against Boise State in Pullman.
“I would play tennis 24 hours a day if I could, but for now I must also study,” she said. “When you love something like I love tennis, you don’t need an inspiration to get out and play because I know I will have so much fun doing it.”