Adjusting to life in America went rather smoothly for Anastasia Pushkarenko.
But getting the hang of playing in the No. 1 position on the Mountain Pointe girls varsity tennis team as a freshman this season was a little more stressful for the Ukraine native.
“It is very tough for a freshman to come in and play No.1, “said Mountain Pointe coach Rick Carter. “In the first five or six matches she was frustrated, but we played some of the best teams in the state.”
Although Pushkarenko has been playing since she was 5 in her native country, being asked to go to the top of the playing rung tested her confidence.
“She kept asking me if she really belonged there,” Carter said, “and I told her she’s a freshman who is going to be here for another three years and that she is a role model for the school.”
Pushkarenko accepted the challenge.
“I just needed to stop worrying about it and play,” she said. “It was hard sometimes, but I knew I had to get through it and it’s easier now.”
Carter said his freshman’s confidence and attitude increased as the season progressed.
“She’s running more now and playing every point with all of her heart and it really shows,” Carter said. “Since day one to now she has improved 100 percent.”
The game, she said, is the same at Mountain Pointe and the Ukraine, so she just had to get experience at the varsity.
Pushkarenko has also been working with local tennis guru Mike Henneberry at the Ahwatukee Tennis Center for four years.
That’s where she got to know classmate Mae Maieski, her doubles partner on the Pride team.
“We’re familiar with each other’s technique from playing together,” Pushkarenko said, “so she knows what shots I can get and I know what shots she will get.”
However, despite being thrown up against some of the best singles players in the state, Pushkarenko admits she likes being out in the court on her own.
“I normally don’t like doubles, but playing with Mae is easier because we know each other,” she said. “But I like singles because I have to depend on myself.”
The Pride’s regular season ended last week and although the team was made up mostly of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, they won the East Valley Region championship.
The first round of the state championship playoffs begins on Monday, April 19, with the championship round set for Tuesday, April 27, at the Paseo Tennis Center in Glendale.
The Pride were ranked 11th among the 16 seeded teams that make up the tournament.