Photo provided by Guillaume Tonelli
By Nicole Skow
More than 6,000 miles and a 24-hour plane ride separate Michelle Okhremchuk from her biological family in Crimea, Ukraine. But a simple walk down the hallway or a quick car ride is all that separates her from her new family in Nevada.
Okhremchuk, a senior tennis player for the Pack, set the all-time career singles record with 84 wins after her match against the Pacific. She surpassed not only Tracy King’s record of 83, a mark set 23 years ago, but also the men’s record of 72. Okhremchuk is hungry for more, and she won’t stop until she reaches 24 wins, the all-time single-season record set by King as well.
Okhremchuk started playing tennis at 6 years old, and by the time she turned 12, she received a scholarship to an academy in France. Her family put her on a plane and sent her to France, and since then Okhremchuk has essentially been on her own until college.
Nevada’s tennis team only consists of women from abroad. Players from Spain, Denmark, France, Poland, Ukraine and Ontario populate the roster. Most of them are in the same situation as Okhremchuk: leaving families behind to play at the collegiate level.
“You’re a team that supports you all the time, and your coaches are behind you trying to help you,” Okhremchuk said. “This is pretty much your family, and your parents will always be there, but they can’t really be.”
“We have to be a family because we all come from a different country,” said Juliette Legendre, a junior tennis player and Okhremchuk’s roommate. “We don’t have our own family here, so we better be supportive to each other or we just sink and go home. It’s too hard to be away like that.”
With only seven players on the roster, they spend so much of their time with each other that everyone has become very comfortable with one another. They fight and comfort each other like sisters, but the fights never last long due to how close they are.
“I think I would always prefer to have a small team than the bigger team because you’re always close to everyone,” Okhremchuk said.
This is the first year Okhremchuk has lived with someone from the tennis team. For the past couple of years, she lived with some women from the rifle squad, but now she lives with Legendre.
“Living with a teammate, it’s different,” Okhremchuk said. “You come in, talk about it. If you don’t want to talk about it, you just go to your room and just relax. It for sure brings you closer and it’s nice but sometimes it might be too much because you practice with them.”
Okhremchuk couldn’t see herself living with any other teammate due to Legendre’s calm demeanor. Despite seeing each other every day, Legendre and Okhremchuk have balanced being teammates and roommates.
“We don’t have to talk to understand each other,” Okhremchuk said. “If we don’t want to talk, we don’t talk. If you want to talk, we come together to the living room because it’s me and her and no one else, so it’s nice not to have anyone else.”
“I think that we respect each other’s mood,” Legendre said. “We know each other well enough to know when it’s time to talk or not.
Okhremchuk, Legendre and the rest of the team have two more conference matches before traveling to Fresno for the Mountain West Conference Championships. Nevada will first face Fresno State at home April 13.
Nicole Skow can be reached at email@example.com.