| 03.18.2018

A long way from home


Bykova is quietly tearing up Big Sky in women’s tennis

Dedication is everything when it comes to collegiate athletics, but how many people are willing to dedicate themselves to playing a sport 4,837 miles away from home? Idaho’s No. 1 women’s tennis player Galina Bykova is.

Sophomore Galina Bykova returns a volley with teammate Sophie Vickers Feb. 17 at practice in the Kibbie Dome. Bykova is undefeated in Big Sky singles play heading into the final month of the season.

File photo by Nate Mattson | Argonaut
Sophomore Galina Bykova returns a volley with teammate Sophie Vickers Feb. 17 at practice in the Kibbie Dome. Bykova is undefeated in Big Sky singles play heading into the final month of the season.

The 20-year-old sophomore is from St. Petersburg, Russia, and it was there where her passion for the sport blossomed.

“I started about 13 years ago,” Bykova said. “My grandmother wanted me to get involved, and thought tennis was a nice sport for me to try. My coach told me I had potential at a young age, so I continued to play. Each year I liked it more and more, so I kept playing.”

In Russia, there isn’t a system like the NCAA and college athletics aren’t available. Bykova knew she had to search abroad in order to continue at a higher level.

“A former teammate told me about the University of Idaho and how great the opportunities were for tennis players in college,” Bykova said. “I knew that coming to a university in America would help me achieve my goals to become a professional tennis player. I also knew that I would have better studies here.”

Bykova said going from living in the center of a major Russian city with nearly five million people, to a little town like Moscow was a nice change. Her favorite aspect of America is that she is able to play tennis and study at the same time. She said the academic systems of Russia aren’t as strong, and she wouldn’t be able to study exercise science like she is able to in the U.S.

Bykova is currently ranked No. 1 in the Big Sky and is undefeated in the conference. Her record is 12-4 and 8-0 in conference play this far into the season.

“Galina has really bought into the challenge of playing in the top of the lineup both in doubles and singles and I think that’s a personal goal for her,” Idaho coach Mariana Cobra said. “She knows that … regardless of who she’s playing, she’s going to have a strong match. I think her personal goals of continuing her tennis career after college, I think that really motivates her play every time regardless of who we play.”

Cobra said Bykova has already beat the only ranked opponent in the Big Sky and a formerly unbeaten ranked Fresno State opponent, which has boosted her confidence. She continues to make the case for best player in the Big Sky with her unbeaten record.

Bykova said her biggest collegiate achievement so far happened last year when the team won the Western Athletic Conference, qualified for the national tournament and she won WAC Freshman of the Year.

“I didn’t even know that I was qualified to win it, but then my coach came up to me and told me I won,” Bykova said. “It was so exciting.”

She said her biggest inspiration for doing well in tennis is her mom, dad and grandmother. Growing up, her family traveled with her and supported her through every match. Even though they are an ocean apart now, she said they still support her just as strongly.

“We Skype all the time,” Bykova said. “They give me the best advice and support me so well. We talk before and after every match.”

After graduating college, Bykova said she hopes to become a professional tennis player, like her role model, Russian professional tennis player Maria Sharapova.

Once she is done playing, Bykova said she hopes to coach at a tennis academy or a university.

“I want to stay in America,” she said. “There are more opportunities and I really enjoy learning a second language and getting involved in other cultures. It is a great experience.”

But for now, it is time to focus on school and the upcoming matches.

Bykova will try to continue her undefeated conference season this weekend, as the women’s tennis team takes on Montana and Montana State.

“She’s come a long ways in both her academics and her tennis,” Cobra said. “She’s definitely a player we want to have for like 20 years. She’s been solid, she’s taken up the challenge and as a coach, she’ll always do what I ask for her. (I’m) proud of her and all the success she’s been having.”

Wednesday Walton can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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