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OU women's tennis: Ukrainian Alexandra Pisareva plays for 'something bigger than myself' in Sooners' win over Illinois

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Alexandra Pisareva

Senior Alexandra Pisareva during the match against No. 57 Illinois on March 6.

Alexandra Pisareva took the court on Sunday with a blue and yellow flag adorning the left front of her Oklahoma jersey, and featured the same mark on the towel she kept nearby during her matches.

It’s the sign of the senior’s home country, Ukraine, which has been under siege by Russian forces since Feb. 24, just one day before she traveled to Orlando for OU’s recent match against Central Florida. 

All the while, Pisareva's family back in Donetsk, Ukraine, was heavy on her mind. Her father, Vadym Pysarev, is a famous Ukrainian ballet artist and her mother Inna Dorofeieva is a renowned ballet artist and tutor as well.

Pisareva first learned of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on social media and frantically tried to call her mother, who at first didn’t answer on an external app, but later picked up at her regular number. Dorofeieva informed her daughter that Russian forces had started bombing nearby.

“Whenever I got the notification, I was also freaking out,” said Pisareva, who’s over 5,000 miles away from home. “It was really hard for me because I wasn't close. I wasn't with her and I didn't know what to do at that moment. And I was like, OK, keep holding on, be strong, I'm here with you. That was really hard.”  

Dorofeieva spent a couple weeks either hiding underground or in corridors during emergencies. Finally, despite fear that Russian soldiers on the roads would attack anyone trying to leave Ukraine, Pisareva convinced her mother to board a train to Poland, where she is now headed for refuge.

Though her mother is close to safety, she was once again on Pisareva’s mind as she led No. 3 Oklahoma (14-1) to a 4-0 sweep of Illinois (7-5) with a doubles and singles victory on Sunday afternoon in Norman. The Appalachian State transfer's wins accounted for two of OU’s four points.

“I wasn’t even focused on myself playing,” Pisareva said. “I was even more focused on my country and playing for something bigger than myself.”

During the matches, Pisareva’s teammates were wearing the same Ukrainian flag patches in her honor. They dedicated the competition to her, and to former OU player Oleksandra Korashvili and 2022 Sooners signee Anastasiya Lopata, who are both from Ukraine as well.

Pisareva helped dominate the courts, as she worked with junior Layne Sleeth to take down Josie Frazier and Ashley Yeah, 5-2 in doubles matches. She followed that with a win over Kasia Treiber in singles play, 6-1 and 6-2.

“The amount of strength she showed today and her resilience and just her feistiness to drive to play the best match that she could play,” OU head coach Audra Cohen said, “I think that helped her from start to finish, in doubles and singles.”

Alongside Pisareva, freshman duo Emma Staker and Anchisa Chanta also helped earn the Sooners the doubles point, as they downed Treiber and Emily Casati 6-3. Senior Ivana Corley and junior Carmen Corley’s match was left unfinished, but they were winning 6-4 against Kate Duong and Megan Heuser when doubles concluded. 

Singles play started quickly, as Chanta downed Heuser with a pair of 6-2 scores and extended the Sooners’ lead. The match was clinched when Staker took down Kida Ferrari with a two 6-1 wins and earned the Sooners the sweep.

Three courts were left unfinished, as No. 34-ranked Carmen Corley won set one 6-2, but was trailing 2-3 in set two against Frazier. No. 14-ranked Sleeth was leading Duong 6-2 and 4-1 while No. 38-ranked Ivana Corley was leading Yeah 7-5 and 0-2 when the match concluded. 

Altogether, it was a solid victory for OU to conclude the main portion of nonconference play, but it meant even more to Pisareva’s teammates, who were able to support her with their effort on the courts.

“It’s always a special feeling coming out here and competing,” Staker said. “Especially today, because we were playing for Ukraine and for Sasha, so it just shows that there’s so much bigger things going on than tennis right now.”

Largely thanks to Pisareva, who was named Big 12 Player of the Week back on Feb. 8, the Sooners remain on one of their best trajectories in program history, their only loss this season coming to No. 1 North Carolina in the finals of ITA National Indoors tournament.

Next OU begins Big 12 play against Kansas (7-4) at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 11, in Norman. As Oklahoma continues its historic season, Pisareva has a chance to continue representing her country and family in every match.

“Just every point was like a tribute to Ukraine, and to what her family is enduring there,” Cohen said. “And she knows that while she can’t be there with her family, she knows that she has such a great opportunity here to make them proud and to give them hope.”

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