Tennis can break the ice.
It can break down borders.
It can overcome language barriers.
In short, tennis can make the world a better place.
It certainly has made a huge difference in the world of Angelina Polina and her family.
Polina moved from Kazakhstan to Southwest Washington last spring. Now a junior at Fort Vancouver, Polina brought with her the tennis skills she learned from her father, Vladimer, an athletic trainer.
In this, her first year of high school tennis, Polina earned first-team, all-league status in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League and is playing in the district tournament Saturday, hoping to earn a trip to the bi-district tournament and then state.
More importantly, Polina is adjusting to life in a new country, with help from the game she loves.
“I really enjoy tennis,” Polina said through a translator, her teammate with the Trappers, Olesya Gubar. “It has helped me find new friends.”
She certainly found the right school for her transition, even if it took a while.
Polina attended Heritage High School for a few months last year.
“We didn’t know anybody. It was scary,” she said. “I didn’t speak English.”
She listened and found all the new people around her to be fascinating.
“I wanted to talk to them, so I started learning English really fast,” she said.
Throughout her interview with The Columbian, Polina would answer some questions with the help of Gubar and answered other questions in English. A year ago, she said she pretty much only knew “Do you understand?”
Over the summer, her family moved into the Vancouver Public Schools boundary. She attended Columbia River High School in the fall before landing at Fort Vancouver.
“Fort offered her help,” said Gubar, a 17-year-old from Ukraine who moved to America with her family 16 years ago.
Fort Vancouver High School proudly displays more than 50 flags, representing the nationalities of its students.
“I like school here,” Polina said. “I’ve met many new friends, many nice people from different countries.”
Her parents, Vladimer and Yelena, and her 7-year-old twin sisters Ulyana and Maryanna, came to America for opportunities.
“We got a green card, and we were really blessed and happy we got it,” Vladimer said through Gubar. “We decided to come to America. From the very beginning we liked the people, the sports, the schools. Everything was different.”
Do you like it here, Angelina?
“Of course,” she said in English, with a big smile.
Polina says “of course” a lot when answering in the affirmative.
She misses her friends in Kazakhstan but stays in contact through Facebook and Skype. (So tennis AND the internet make the world a better place.)
“I plan to meet them some time and catch up,” Angelina said, hoping that reunion is in the United States one day.
Until then, she is enjoying time with her new friends, especially her teammates at Fort. The tennis team is represented by six countries, according to coach Greg Bender.
When Polina arrived, it was evident she was going to be the team’s top singles player.
“It’s been amazing coaching her,” Bender said. “I’ve never coached someone at her level. It’s a new experience for me. Her game is 90 percent complete. She has all the shots. It’s just strategy and decision making I help her with.”
Vladimer also has been cleared to help out and now assists with the coaching.
“I want to give big thanks to Mr. Bender for letting us come here and giving us this opportunity,” Vladimer said.
Bender said Angelina’s arrival has helped in more ways than just being an extremely talented tennis player.
“She’s upped the level of everyone else’s play,” Bender said.
Players who were Nos. 1 and 2 are now competing at Nos. 2 and 3, spots that are more appropriate for their playing level. Emma Nellor and Selorm Tamakloe are winning more matches this year because of that move, the coach said.
Polina also wants to play college tennis, and perhaps become a professional one day. Bender said he helped her get registered with the United States Tennis Association, to get Polina into tournaments outside of high school tennis.
“I want to take everything I possibly can from the sport,” Polina said.
She is thinking about studying business in college but she is not sure yet. A junior, she has plenty of time to decide. She does know her sport will be a big part of her life.
“I know I want to be successful in tennis,” she said.
As far as high school tennis goes, she has set a few goals.
“I want to show (my opponents) my best game. I want to meet new people,” Polina said. “I want to show my better self to the new people I meet.
“And to win.”