Good Sports: Ukrainian tennis star finds refuge at Fresno Pacific

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Maria Borodii is in her third season with the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds. Tennis was a way of life growing up in Ukraine.

Her father was her head coach and she began playing professionally at the age of just 14. The sport provides a sense of comfort during uncertain times for her country.

"What really keeps me afloat here and keep my mind a little positive is tennis," she said. "Every day, when I come for practice, it just keeps me away from everything going on back home."

Maria's parents still live in Ukraine, trying to survive the violence that surrounds them. Her mother is from Russia, where half of her relatives still live.

"The first week, I barely slept and went five hours during the night because I was just constantly texting them. Usually, I call them for at least an hour a day. "

The ten-hour time difference makes it difficult to communicate. Maria's teammate and roommate, Sauna, sees how it's impacting her first hand.

"it's been hard because communication is not always possible, so she just lays awake and hopes that they're well," Sauna said.

The Borodii's are unable to flee the country due to financial reasons.

"My parents didn't leave the city because of the lack of money," Maria said. "Unfortunately, 20 days ago when the war started, we had this in our minds but my dad lost his job and my mom doesn't work. No one could provide them support and who would help them, it was too risky."

With Maria's family more than 6,000 miles away, the Sunbirds have provided a strong support system for her.

"It's definitely nice to have this amazing team with me right now," Maria said. "It would be so hard for me to maintain my mental health."

Sauna and Coach Rodriguez made hair ribbons using Ukrainian colors for the team to wear during matches.

"Wanted to raise awareness for the situation, show people that it's serious and for us, a way for us to support her and to show her that we're there for her," Sauna said.

Despite playing with a heavy heart, Maria is having her best season yet. She is 6-2 at the No.1 singles position.

"She's a fighter, I haven't seen that in a while in a player," Coach Rodriguez said/ "Knowing that she's going to give me 100 percent no matter if she's having an off day, a bad day, or a good day, she's going to leave it all on the court."

The Fresno Pacific tennis courts provide a place of refuge for Maria and a way to feel connected to her family back home.

"I talked to my dad when the war started and he said, 'Maria, if something happens, continue to do what you love.' I made this promise to them that I will continue to finish my season, especially since I'm a senior," she said. Not for myself, but for my parents, too, to show my gratitude for them."
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