NATCHITOCHES – After nine years, which included three combined NCAA Tournament appearances as a player, assistant coach and head coach of the Northwestern State women’s tennis team, head coach Olga Bazhanova is stepping away from the program.
In her playing career from 2009-12, as an assistant coach from 2013-14 and as head coach from 2015-17, Bazhanova helped lead the Lady Demons to six Southland Conference Tournament finals in seven years. The NSU tennis team made the conference championship match in 2010 and 2011 and then again from 2013-16. The Lady Demons took home the SLC Tournament trophy in 2010 and in 2015.
Northwestern State Director of Athletics Greg Burke said the Demon family is losing one of its greats.
“Without a doubt, Olga has brought championship DNA to our athletic program; first as a student-athlete and then as a coach. It speaks volumes about her drive to be successful. It’s a real credit to her that she not only moved here at a young age, but also adapted quickly and successfully and here we are nine years later and she is so respected and so well liked.”
As a player, Bazhanova was a two-time All-Southland Academic Team selection (2010 and 2012) and First-team doubles No. 1 selection (2010 and 2012). Bazhanova’s fingerprints are all over the NSU record books as well. She owns the sixth most doubles wins (64), the eighth best career doubles win percentage (.762, 64-20) and twice had the sixth-best single season winning percentage (.895), going 17-2 in 2009 and 2012.
In her three seasons as head coach, Bazhanova led the team to an overall record of 42-29 (22-11 Southland), including one NCAA Tournament appearance, one SLC Tournament win and one additional SLC Tournament final appearance.
Bazhanova coached and tutored one of the top Lady Demons of all time, 2016 Academic All-American Natalya Krutova. Under Bazhanova’s leadership, Krutova took the No. 4 all-time NSU ranking in career wins in both singles (60) and doubles (66).
“One of the great things about Olga was that she was able to work hard and make herself successful,” Burke said. “And then she was able to take those skills and transfer them into a coach who was able to make someone even more successful than she was. It really is remarkable.
“For her age, she was well ahead of the curve when it came to organization, work ethic, dedication and vision. I never worried about what was going on in the women’s program. I always knew the I’s were getting dotted and the T’s were getting crossed. I just had that level of confidence in Olga and I know Patric did as well.”
Director of Tennis Patric DuBois who served as the Lady Demon head coach from 2008-15 raved about the former Lady Demon standout as both a player and coach.
“Olga was an outstanding student athlete in every way. She did things the right way in everything she did. Her main motto in her nine years here was ‘find a way.’ She always found a way to succeed. If that meant doing extra work on the tennis court, in the weight room, or in a tutor room for academics she always found a way to excel at a high level. She did this as a student, she did this as an assistant coach and she did this as a head coach. She always tried to instill in her student-athletes as a head coach the same work ethic and mindset that she had herself.”
DuBois, who is serving as the interim head coach, said the search for the new head coach that will continue to build upon the rich tradition of the NSU tennis program is underway.
“We’re doing a national search,” DuBois said. “We want a coach who does things the right way. We want a coach who is interested in the student-athletes having a great student experience and athletic experience. We want somebody who develops our student-athletes as a person and as a tennis player; someone who can bring out the best in these young ladies to prepare them for their post-collegiate careers.
“We’ve always tried to do that here – we call it our ‘process.’ We’re always confident that if we follow a certain process, even though we may take a few steps back sometimes, in the end if we do things the right way our talents will come through when it counts. We believe that in life, we believe that on the tennis courts and we believe that in the classroom. If you look at our success on the tennis courts and in the classroom and if you go past the collegiate experience and look at many former student-athletes that are successful in the workplace, it’s proven that this philosophy works.”
A Saturday ago, current players, former teammates and coaches, and NSU tennis supporters gathered to thank the coach for her dedication to the Lady Demons.
“When I came here I was just sixteen years old – she basically became a second mom to me,” junior Polina Ivanova said. “She taught me how to be tough. We would have 6 a.m. workouts and long talks in the office. She was very disciplined in college and wanted the same from us.”
Adna Curukovic, Bazhanova’s doubles partner and roommate for three years, provided a unique perspective of the fierce coach.
“We had some great wins. With Olga it was always pretty easy to play on the court because I could always trust her. I knew if I was at the net and a ball passed me I knew that Olga was going to run because Olga is not going to give up. I always enjoyed playing with her in doubles and practicing with her.
“I lived with her for three years so I got to know Olga a little bit better than some other players did. Olga is a great person. It doesn’t matter where she is, I’m sure she’s going to find a way to show her character and lead because she just has that personality.”
Bazhanova has been an integral piece of a number of great moments in NSU tennis history. She was a playing member of the 2010 Lady Demon team that went undefeated in conference play, then as an assistant coach for the 2013 Southland Conference Tournament Champions and 2014 Southland regular season champions, and finally as the head coach of the 2015 Southland Conference Tournament Champions.
“There are too many of them,” Bazhanova said. “When our team brought the conference championship home in 2010 stands out. That whole year the way we worked and fought for each other – that was where I learned about team unity.
“As a coach, it was actually my first year of head coaching (2015) when we were 0-5 to start the season. The girls weren’t down on themselves and stayed positive. Then we got our first win against North Texas, a really tough team that year. Just the way the girls competed, they became pit bulls out there and we played very well.
“The best memories are all the moments on the road that we go through together with the ups and downs. The whole process is what I enjoy most of the job. You get to help them and get to see them succeed. Getting to see them grow and compete for the university and their teammates, those are the best parts about the job.”
Burke hired Bazhanova to the head coaching position immediately following her graduation from the NSU graduate school. DuBois, one of the nation’s winningest women’s tennis coaches took the roles of Assistant AD for Special Projects and Director of Tennis when Bazhanova was hired and remains actively involved in the program.
“Mr. Burke and Coach Patric were wonderful mentors,” Bazhanova said. “Most importantly I’m so thankful for the opportunity they gave to me coming out of college when I gained my masters. When I took this job I knew they had expectations, but I put even higher expectations on myself. I wanted this program to be better off than when I took it. This program was already one of the top positions in the conference and had been nationally ranked, but I wanted to take it higher. I wanted it to be nothing but the best.
“We have tremendous support here from our administration and the community. With this team, we have a philosophy, ‘You come here, you work hard, you get a great education and you create relationships.’ Most importantly you come and earn it.”
Bazhanova has certainly coached and recruited high quality student-athletes. Amy Williams, under the tutelage of Bazhanova, was awarded the 2014 Southland Conference Steve McCarty award. Bazhanova continued the focus on academic success in her time as a head coach since 2015 as the NSU tennis team annually owns one of the best, if not the best team GPA’s on campus and has won several Intercollegiate Tennis Association academic awards.
Bazhanova, the Nikolaev, Ukraine native who spent nine years in the Natchitoches community is grateful as she departs.
“I just want to say thank you to this university, the community and to the people I work with. This place really means a lot deeply in my heart. I hope the program continues to rise more and more every year. Thank you for everything this place has done for me.”