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Advantage Ella

Vista del Lago freshman excels on the tennis court
By: Matt Long
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Ella Zagorenko is unique when compared to most freshmen at Vista del Lago. Her Russian last name stands out among her peers. She was born in Moldova, a country of 4 million people located in eastern Europe between Romania and the Ukraine, a country that was formerly a part of the Soviet Union. Zagorenko was born in 1995, the first of four children for her parents, Igor and Olga. Zagorenko was also born deaf and that’s the reason the family moved to California in 1998, so she could receive a cochlear implant. Had the family stayed in Moldova, Olga said having the surgery would have been like a dream, while in the United States that dream became reality in 2003. With the implant in her right ear, Zagorenko can hear pretty well and also reads lips, but like a lot of teens, is self-conscious of her differences. At times she struggles to understand people. Having been home-schooled in fifth through seventh grades, she’s only in her second year of public school since fourth grade. During her classes at Vista she has an aid that sits next to her to help her when needed. Her intense shyness causes her to withdraw from social situations and keep to herself a lot of the time. Where Zagorenko feels most comfortable and most like her peers is on the tennis court, where the lanky 5’9” right-handed player is among the best in the area. She’s Vista’s No. 1 female singles player on the school’s co-ed tennis team, which has had an outstanding season. The Eagles have assured themselves a piece of the Sierra Valley Conference Championship with an 11-1 record, their first season as a co-ed program. Zagorenko has won 12 of her 13 matches, losing once to a male player from Mira Loma in a scrimmage and then dropping her first match to a girl from West Campus. Since losing her first match of the season she’s beat all comers. “Early in the season I was afraid of losing because I was afraid my coach would be mad at me and my teammates would be disappointed,” Zagorenko said. “After that first match, I texted my mom and asked her if I should quit.” Mom’s answer was obvious. “I told her no, don’t quit, you will be fine,” Olga said. “My whole point for getting her involved into a sport when she was younger was to give her something to help her with self-confidence. It’s hard for her to be a part of a group, but tennis gives her something to hold onto. She’s very shy, but is becoming more confident.” Vista’s tennis coach, Chris Evers, has been impressed with her play this season. “Ella’s mowing people down,” Evers said. “She can hit any kind of spin and can adapt to any opponent’s game. She can hit top spin or she can flatten her shot out and hit it hard. She can slice with her forehand and her backhand and can also overpower opponents. She’s very strong mentally for a freshman and that makes her tough.” Zagorenko has also impressed her teammates. Junior Kriti Bhatia is Vista’s No. 2 female singles player and said it doesn’t bother her playing second fiddle to her younger teammate. “Ella’s fit in very well and everyone on the team is friendly to her,” Bhatia said. “We’re all a family. She’s an amazing player. When she plays, it’s like she’s dancing on the court because it’s so graceful and flowing. I don’t mind playing behind her. She’s helped me get better.” Sophomore Gage Huber, who predominately plays doubles for the Eagles, has also enjoyed having Zagorenko on the team. “Ella doesn’t let her hearing affect her social life, especially with the team,” Huber said. “Once she got comfortable after the first few matches, she took over from there. She’s got the most wicked two-handed backhand I’ve ever seen and she’s got one of the best serves. She’s always aggressive and lays it all on the court and that’s what makes her a great player.” Zagorenko is much more comfortable on the court now than she was at the beginning of the season just a little more than a month ago. Because she has trouble hearing, she asks her opponents to raise their hand when she’s hit a ball out of bounds. That’s about the only difference between watching her play and one of her teammates. Zagorenko began playing tennis six years ago and back then would sometimes be on the court between three and six hours a day. She’s always been athletic and also enjoys swimming and used to play soccer, basketball and volleyball. In her spare time she enjoys cooking and is active in her church. Her future goals include earning a scholarship and going to college. She also hopes to help those who are less fortunate. “There are a lot of orphans in Moldova and a lot of troubled families,” Olga explained. “Our church is always talking about helping others and Ella wants to be a missionary and help others.” Until then Zagorenko is enjoying playing on her high school tennis team, something she’s always wanted to do. “I’m surprised at how well I’ve done,” Zagorenko said. “The team’s good too and I like it. Everything’s good.”