Norma Bertoch | Posted: 14 Apr 2020 | Updated: 15 Feb 2021

Women's tennis seniors look back at their BYU careers

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Thank you, Seniors
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PROVO, Utah – BYU tennis players Polina Malykh and Kate Cusick Truman reflect on their BYU careers.

POLINA MALYKH
What are some of your best memories from being in the tennis program?

It is really hard. My favorite memory is just being on this team. Wherever we went, wherever we were, whatever we were doing – we were having fun as a family. My senior year was the best year of my college career not only because of our tennis results but also because of the personal connections and chemistry we had on this team. This whole year gave me so many amazing memories – how we had a water fight with the coaches, beating ranked teams, joking about all our 4-3 wins, how we never played tennis in Hawaii, all our inside jokes, quotes, and laughs we had. I will never forget the feeling of having a second family here with me who is always working so hard, pushing each other, fighting side by side, and also staying a family and always having fun. I will forever cherish those four incredible years of my life that I would never trade for anything. Being a team captain of this team was my dream, and I am forever honored to be given this opportunity. College tennis at BYU made me a better person on and off the court.

KATE CUSICK TRUMAN
What are some of your best memories from being in the tennis program?

My best memories have come from the amount of time we spend together as a team. I have spent more time with them than most people in my life. My best memories have been during the season. The season is long and it can get tiring at times. But, when you have a team like mine, you can make every moment fun even after a long car ride back from the airport at midnight. We have learned to make the best of any situation we have been through. Knowing we have gone through so much together and have never given up but given all we have, that’s what makes it worth it and that’s what makes the best memories. 

POLINA 
What is your favorite win from your senior year?

My personal favorite win would be our match against the University of Arizona, a Pac-12 school. Our team win would be beating No. 33 Denver.

I played No. 1 singles against Arizona, and it was always my personal little goal. I always wanted to challenge myself and play against the best players in the country – and symbolically, it did happen in my last collegiate career match. I have faced a lot of injuries this year (we had a team joke that I am always the one to get injured) and being able to overcome everything and win for my team was a dream come true. I will never forget the feeling when I stepped off the court when we beat Arizona as a team, and nobody ever doubted that we could do that. My match went into the third set and it was important for me to close it up, and when I returned from my bathroom break – both of our athletic directors were there, Tom and Brian, high-fiving me and telling me I could do it. Brian told me he believed in me and he knew I was capable of winning that match. This gave me so much confidence and desire to win for my team, my girls, my coaches, athletic directors, and this program. And guess what, we won as a team. All together. This match will always be so special to me.

Beating No.33 Denver is my favorite team win. We worked so hard during the pre-season and in season, and it was our first win over a ranked team. We lost to them my previous years and beating them my senior year was unforgettable. I don’t think our opponents realized how good we were, and, oh man, we were good. As Holly told us, we are a hidden talent in college tennis, and we proved that. It was so special sitting after the match and realizing what we are capable of doing if we unite together. Of course, we had a little crying session, but from that moment on – we knew we could beat everybody because we were a team. We were a family. Our motto this year was to make it happen and we made it happen!

KATE 
What is your favorite win from your senior year?

My favorite win from my senior year was our win against No. 33 Denver. The doubles came down to Leah and me, and somehow I didn’t feel any pressure even being down. I knew our team trusted in us and I knew Leah and I trusted each other. We came from being down to win 7-5. We played to win and had the confidence to do it. After winning the doubles point, we knew it wasn’t even close to being over. Our team fought so hard from beginning to end. This win meant so much to all of us because it proved we can compete with the best in the country. After so much adversity with injuries this year, this win was special. We came together and knew that each spot in the lineup was important and that everyone had given their all.

POLINA 
What is your favorite win from your career?

Oh, this is a hard one. It is hard to pick one, so I have a couple. I got knee surgery after playing against Long Beach State in Hawaii during my freshman year. After 10 months of rehab, I came back and was playing in the lineup, and we went to play Long Beach. To say I was shaking is to say nothing. At some point during my match, I couldn’t hit a ball. I was so nervous. That match gave me all the flashbacks, all the pain and hard work. Winning that match felt really good – it showed me that I had overcome some of the worst difficulties of my career. That sophomore year I had a winning streak of 11 matches in a row.

In my junior year, my goal was to beat that. I remember winning 11 matches and playing San Francisco at their place in my junior year. That match was rough. Probably one of the worst times I played tennis. Losing the first set brought me down because I could end my streak back then haha. But I fought back in the second set, barely won it, super tight and then I closed it up pretty easily in the third. That meant that I just beat my personal record. In my junior year, I set a record of winning 14 matches in a row.

I had another two favorite matches – playing Utah and Gonzaga in my junior year. My singles match against Utah that year was probably one of the best of my career. I remember having a real battle on that third court, playing three sets for three hours, both of us gave it all we had. It was an incredible match between two very talented and really strong teams, the atmosphere was unforgettable. We came up short but that match gave us a boost of confidence coming into the match with Gonzaga. Gonzaga went down the next week. I remember texting our team saying that I knew we would beat Gonzaga after having such a close match with Utah. Utah clinched it against us, we clinched it with Gonzaga. It is a great memory.

KATE
What is your favorite win from your career?

One of my favorite wins from my career might not be one people would expect. When we played Idaho State at Washington State, I played a girl who I had lost to in three sets earlier in the year at regionals. Although this match wasn’t against a top school or even a school in our conference, my individual match mattered for me because of who I was playing. I was excited to play her again and prove to myself what I could do. This player made a lot of balls and I was prepared for it. I knew going into it what I needed to do, and I executed my plan really well. The match did go to three sets again, and I won 6-4 in the third. This meant a lot to me because I played my game and stuck to it. Even though we didn’t need my win to win the match, I gained so much more confidence from my personal win. The match had been so close and there were a lot of deciding points. I was grateful to have a coach like Holly on my court who stuck with me the whole match. The last game was crucial and after saving game points I finally won. I turned and yelled to Holly who yelled back. This feeling of fighting so hard in a match and coming out on top with someone like Holly next to me is one I will never forget. 

POLINA
Which travel game/tournament was your favorite/the most memorable?

Hawaii all the way during my senior year. The whole trip is just one unforgettable experience. I think that that trip is the reason why we were so close this year. We hiked, we ate, we laughed, we took pictures, Dillon trying to catch a chicken, Holly freaking out about her driving skills, it rained, it rained some more, but we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. We spent such an incredible time getting to know that beautiful island as a team. My freshmen year trip to Hawaii left some scars on my knee, but this trip – I wish I could repeat that. There are so many things from that trip that will be forever in my heart and that I will never forget.

KATE
 Which travel game/tournament was your favorite/the most memorable?

My most memorable trip this year was our trip to Hawaii. This trip brought our team so close and we were able to make the best memories. Despite it raining the whole time and only getting to play a few matches the whole week, we made the best of it and had so much fun. We all played some of our best tennis and I think that was because we didn’t put pressure on ourselves but had fun even with all the rain delaying us. 

POLINA
What was it like to play with your doubles partner Emilee Astle this year?

EMILEE!! My baby girl and my best doubles partner. Playing alongside her was a privilege and look at our record! We had such a special bond; I always knew I could rely on her and she knew she could rely on me (hopefully). Each time we played together – it was fun. It was so fun when I never hit an overhead because I mean look at Emilee. It was so fun having a little chit chat, crack a joke, and then go out there and kill it together. It was so fun when Dillon told her to hit the first serve and for me to “go psycho at the net.” And we did that. We went psycho. We got it done. My senior year was the best year all around and that includes doubles. Every time we played, we wanted to win so much, we were so competitive, but we also did what we had to do – we always stuck to our plan.

 

As I mentioned earlier, our motto was to make it happen. And we did.

I am so proud of Emilee and our duo for everything we accomplished and what she accomplished individually. It is amazing to see how much she grew in a matter of months. I always looked at her as my baby haha, so I am a proud mama. I loved playing with Emilee, and I am so grateful I got to experience that. She is an amazing girl, such a talented player, and I know her future at BYU is so bright. She will do amazing things.

KATE
What was it like to play with your doubles partner Leah Heimuli this year?

My doubles partner Leah has been the best doubles partner I could ask for. As soon as we found out she was transferring, I wanted to play doubles with her. We grew up in the same area and played all the same tournaments. It was so fun to finally be on the same team together and even better getting to play doubles together! We had such great chemistry from day one. Our game styles do really well together and so do our personalities. We respect each other and know when the other needs a kick in the butt or a joke to make them laugh during a match. I have been so lucky to get to play with her this whole year. She is an incredible player and an even better friend. I wish we had more time to play together because she is amazing! 

POLINA
What will you miss most about the team?

Just the chemistry and everything we did together. Practice, trips, girl nights, dinners, Christmas parties, traveling together. Everything we did I will miss that greatly. There is no better feeling when you feel loved, accepted, cared, and listened to; and this is exactly how I felt. It was always so fun. I wish I could freeze time and have my senior year squad with me forever. When we had our Christmas party this year, I left having tears in my eyes, because it was my last Christmas party with this team. I just remember us laughing so hard, discussing literally anything, I remember Morgan and I said the same thing, and Madeline and I did the same, twice. It showed me how much closer we grew and that I had this special group in my life. I will miss everything about them so dearly. Whenever I think about my team, I think about hard work, a super-strong team bond, and a lot of laughing. Uncontrollably. This is exactly what it was, and I will never forget it. 

KATE
What will you miss most about the team?

I will miss having a family like this one who is all focused on achieving the same goals. My team became a family especially this last year. I can’t say too much about them or I will start to cry. That’s how much they mean to me. We argue, laugh, cry, fight, and cheer together. There isn’t a more special group of people. It seems weird to say I will miss spending time together because sometimes it seems like we get to be with each other way too much. But that is what I will miss most, the time spent together.  

POLINA
What is the funniest thing that Holly does at practices?

Hopefully she won’t make me run sprints for this. Holly is very competitive and it is so funny when she plays in and gets so mad when she misses. Even though she doesn’t practice. She gets so so so into it and so annoyed when she doesn’t do something well. It cracks me up! I remember we played a game and I was playing against her and Dillon, and she misses, and she goes: “WHY DID I DO SOMETHING STUPID LIKE THAT” and walks away. I died. What also is funny is after playing us, she will always be sore for weeks. Hahaha. “You guys, after running with you, my back is so sore,” and it goes on. I love you Holly and please don’t hate me!! My 1.5 years with her were not enough; I wish I had all of them with her. Holly will do incredible things with this program because of her beautiful heart and how much she cares about this team and how much she loves each of us.

KATE
What is the funniest thing that Holly does at practices?

The funniest thing Holly does at practice is when she plays in the points and we see a WHOLE different side of her. She turns into the most competitive person you’ll ever see. It is so funny to see her reactions to losing a point or missing a ball in a drill. She probably doesn’t think it’s funny, but we love it. She is the best. 
 

POLINA
What is the funniest thing that Dillon does at practices?

Dillon is just a funny guy. He always tries to play me and beat me, but it never happens. So, it is the funniest thing, haha. Other than that, he is always just so positive that sometimes it is really funny. Holly made us run sprints, do 10 steps in between each shot, and do running drills after each round, he goes: “we love running, we love that!” – and he is being serious. Even though we don’t like running, Dillon makes it fun. It is also ridiculous how we always tried to get Dillon on our side – “please tell Holly to play doubles”, “can you ask her if we can play singles?”, “can you ask her for no condition today please?” – and he does that. He is such a great coach and he has always been our friend. My junior year we were at SMU and their coach wanted to play outdoors but it was freezing. They had a coaches meeting to decide if we’re playing outside, whereas none of us wanted to. We told him to go out there and make us play inside. And he did that. I remember him saying: “Well, my girls care where to play, and they want to play indoors.” And we played indoors.

KATE
What is the funniest thing that Dillon does at practices?

Oh the funny things Dillon does at practice are endless. The funniest though are the words he yells out when he misses a ball. “Peanuts” and  “Pineapple” are the two most common and it makes me laugh every time. He is one of the funniest people I know

POLINA
If you could travel to any tournament/game and do it over again in your career, which one would you choose?

If this question means to relive a tournament or a game, it would be just my entire senior year. I would love to repeat that. There is no one match out of any that I would love to relive again. My senior was so special to me, personally and as a team. It showed me how much I grew in those four years, how much I have learned, and what kind of a player I became. As a team, I have never felt that close to all of my teammates, my coaches, and our staff before. I received support through dark times from everybody. I would definitely relive this year to experience those emotions again.

If it is about what I would change – probably my freshman year dual matches. When we started the season, I had no idea what the college tennis was about. I worried about stupid things, things that I know now, don’t matter. I have learned so much, and I wish I could tell myself, a freshman non-member from Russia, about them. Even though it didn’t feel like that back then, having surgery my freshmen year and being out for 10 months was a blessing. I observed, I learned, and I grew up so much. During my freshman season, I wasted time worrying about things I couldn’t control. Sitting out that year made me realize that, but it also made me fall in love with college tennis. I learned what I want to do and what I shouldn’t do. Coming back in my sophomore year I was a completely different player and teammate. I wish I could change some of the things from my freshman year, but I am glad that I learned so much throughout those four years and grew into who I am right now. Being a team captain showed me how much I learned and how much I want my girls to learn. I wish somebody did that to me during my freshman year, so I really tried to be there all the time for every single freshman on our team to help them stay on the right track and any teammate in general.  This program made me a better person, and I gave my all to it.

KATE
If you could travel to any tournament/game and do it over again in your career, which one would you choose?

I would choose to play this year's match against Utah over again. I let my nerves take control and did not play how I knew I could. I would play this match over again with my whole team because we were so close to winning, and I have all the confidence that if we played it again, we would come out on top. 

POLINA
What do you plan to do now?

For now, I am sticking around. I am taking a fifth year in school to graduate, so I will be around helping with the team and working with my coaches. I am really excited to try a normal student life and see how it feels. Knowing that I will still be around with the team, gives me some peace. It is so hard to say goodbye to something you have been doing since the age of five; and I am struggling, especially in our situation, when our best season got cut so short, it is hard to feel closure, aka I don’t feel any closure at all. But I am excited to start a new chapter of my life and still be involved with my favorite tennis program.

KATE
What do you plan to do now?

It is still uncertain what this next year will bring with the NCAA giving our eligibility back or not, but my plan is to move to California with my husband as we are both graduating in April! We both have jobs lined up out there and are excited to begin a new chapter in our lives.

POLINA
What is one thing you want to tell your teammates who will return for the 2020-21 season?

I would tell them to appreciate every second and every minute they have on this team and to build friendships. I’d also tell them to love each other and support each other no matter the cultural, religious differences. It will never work, and it doesn’t mean anything unless you are sisters, unless you are a family. College tennis will go by way too fast! Anything can happen, and you can be out or done. I know from my experience. So, don’t waste your time. Stop worrying about the lineup, stop worrying about losing; just work hard and make memories. Make it fun, make it memorable and special. I want you to walk away from your tennis career, when you are done, with a feeling that you have no regrets. Live in the moment, put down your phone and talk to your teammates, share emotions, push each other, battle alongside one another, do silly things, take pictures, and love each other. There is nothing like college tennis and you guys have been given a wonderful opportunity, so be honored and be humble. Be grateful for what this school does for you, listen to your coaches, and don’t forget that you are in this TOGETHER. I put my heart and soul into this program, I gave it all, and I am forever grateful to have had such an opportunity. It is an honor to have been a Cougar and I will bleed blue for the rest of my life!

KATE
What is one thing you want to tell your teammates who will return for the 2020-21 season?

I want to remind my teammates of the amazing opportunity it is to play for coaches like Holly and Dillon, and for an incredible University. As soon as we found out we wouldn’t be finishing the season, I was heartbroken. I would tell my teammates to never take any match or day at practice for granted. It goes by too fast and can be over in a second.