January, 2004

Scott Oudsema University of Kentucky women's coach Mark Guilbeau calls Aibika Kalsarieva "one of the hardest working student-athletes I have every known or coached." After observing her for just a few days, I would have to agree.

Aibika was born and raised in Kyrghyzstan. On her first trip to the United States in December of 2000 she created buzz as she made the third round in singles and reached the mixed doubles finals at the Eddie Herr International Championships. Her next stop was at the Orange Bowl, where she upset No. 1 seeded Giorgia Mondani of Italy. It was at the Orange Bowl the next year that Aibika was recruited and began her quest to play college tennis.

Though her talents offered an NCAA Division I position, without a full grasp of English, Aibika settled in at Lewis-Clark State to play for the NAIA. She used the time to perfect her knowledge and her tennis, winning the 2001 ITA Regionals in singles and doubles followed by a fifth place finish at the ITA Small College Championships in singles (as well as a fourth place in doubles). By the time she left Lewis-Clark State for the University of Kentucky, Aibika was a two-time All-American and the 2002 ITA National Player To Watch. She finished the 2003 season as No. 3 in the NAIA rankings.

Since joining his team, Coach Guilbeau credits Aibika with making "our team better every day in the practice environment, as well as during actual competition." She was a finalist at the ITA Southeast Regional and won the First Annual USTA National Tennis Center Collegiate Invitational in singles and doubles. In the season's first NCAA Division I individual rankings, Aibika is currently No. 23.

I met Aibika at the National Tennis Center in her hometown of Queens. She had come to play the USTA National Open Women's Championships and made quite an impression in her entrance and exit. The latter was a three hour semifinal match that she was forced to retire, 3-6,7-6(3),4-5 due to cramps.

by Marcia Frost


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