A native of Kiev, Ukraine, sophomore Polina Movchan is one of several international students on the tennis team. (PHOTO COURTESY OF SBU ATHLETICS)
A native of Kiev, Ukraine, sophomore Polina Movchan is one of several international students on the tennis team. (PHOTO COURTESY OF SBU ATHLETICS)

A rising star on Stony Brook’s Women’s Tennis team, Polina Movchan plays to win.

In her native Ukraine, she won four national championships before finishing high school. She competed in international tournaments in 18 European countries — then a wrist injury in Germany knocked her off the court for six months.

“I thought of quitting tennis just to work,” Movchan said. “To become a normal human being.”

As she recuperated, Movchan’s focus shifted to her studies. She lived in Kiev, Ukraine, with her single mother, a former professional basketball player, and grandmother. She took college classes part time. During this period, she considered the costs — paid entirely out of pocket by her mother — of pursuing a career in tennis.

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Even though she thought about leaving tennis behind, she did not come to the decision easily. Her mother played basketball, and her absent father had been a volleyball player.

“I came from an athletic family,” Movchan said. “It’s in my blood.”

Now, Movchan is an exceptional sophomore journalism student here at Stony Brook. She won the America East’s Rookie of the Year award in her first season, and was part of the Seawolves team that dethroned Boston University from nearly two decades of dominance in the conference.

Getting here was no aced serve. Her mother approached her with the idea of moving her education to the United States. If she returned to tennis, the possibility of a full scholarship was real. But first she had to overcome an arduous eighteen months of paperwork. While waiting on the bureaucratic process, Movchan scored high on her SATs and the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

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“I had a list of Division I schools,” Movchan said. “I picked the ones around New York.”

Division I schools offer full scholarships, and New York City offers the most jobs, she said.

Seawolves Coach Gary Glassman made sure that Stony Brook stood out as Movchan considered her options. “He was speaking to me as if I were already a member of the team,” she said.

Glassman’s outstretched hand impressed Movchan’s mother, she said. He also put the young tennis player in contact with those who would become her future teammates. During Movchan’s first semester, Glassman assigned then-senior Katherine Hanson as a “big sister” type mentor.

The team’s largely international makeup helped, too. At the time, only Hanson was an American.

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“If they can fit in,” Movchan said of her teammates, “I felt safe.”

In her second year here, Movchan has become a team leader herself.

“She is always here to support the team whether it is on or off the court,” said teammate Lisa Setyon, a junior. “I admire her work ethic a lot. She is a great player who inspires the whole team.”

Still, she took other measures to adjust in life in a foreign country. She was invited to the Student Athletes Advisory Committee. The SAAC applied for a grant of about $30,000 to establish Choosing Health Options In the Campus Environment — or CHOICE — a student outreach program designed to discourage substance abuse and promote good nutrition, among other health-related themes. Movchan is one of two leaders in the program.

Keeping busy distracts her from her homesickness, but she does go home between semesters — partly to take exams in her Ukrainian university, which she still attends part time. In Ukraine, the emphasis is on final exam results, not class attendance.

Next fall, she said, she is looking forward to her mother’s first visit to the United States.

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