The 7 a.m. practices were already draining for Galina Chernykh.
But waking up early every day and traveling four miles to the Legacy Tennis Center in East Falls — just to sit down and watch the team play — was much worse.
The graduate student and University of Rhode Island transfer came to Temple to play tennis in her final year of NCAA eligibility. Chernykh said she wanted to join a talented team in a good conference and help the Owls have a deep run in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
But an injury in the team’s first match against Old Dominion University on Jan. 14 forced her to sit out for more than two months.
“That was the worst,” Chernykh said. “You come to practice at 7 a.m. but you can’t do anything so every day you’d sit for three hours and just are like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Chernykh returned to the court on March 16 against the University of Delaware. She and senior Dina Karina made up the third positioned doubles team and won their match, 6-1.
The following day, she played singles in the Owls’ 7-0 win against La Salle. She won 6-3, 7-5 in the second flight.
“I don’t feel like I came back, because my game is not the same at all and it’s frustrating,” Chernykh said. “I knew it would be tough, but I didn’t know it would be that bad.”
Chernykh said she had Achilles tendinitis in her right heel. Originally, she and coach Steve Mauro believed the injury would not be serious and she would be back in the lineup after a brief absence. But after a few weeks with no progress, it was clear the injury was worse than she thought.
“I thought it would be one or two weeks and about a month in, I found out it didn’t get any better,” Chernykh said. “I realized that even if I came back at that moment I would still need so much time to practice and get back in shape.”
Chernykh said she worked hard with the training staff to heal as soon as possible. But the key to recovery was rest. For Chernykh, that was difficult.
“It was tough to keep in shape,” Chernykh said. “It was my ankle, so I couldn’t run. I couldn’t even bike. I didn’t do a good job because it was just impossible.”
“You have to be positive,” Chernykh added. “After you’re sitting for two months at 7 a.m. on the court for three hours, you have to stay positive. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to accept it’s part of being a student-athlete.”
Chernykh played in the top singles position for the Owls against Old Dominion in her only match before injuring her Achilles tendon. Junior Alina Abdurakhimova took over the top spot after Chernykh’s injury and held it until junior Monet Stuckey-Willis took played in top flight singles against Delaware on March 16 and against La Salle on March 17.
Mauro said Abdurakhimova will be back in the first position. While Chernykh said she is prepared to play a lower position until she is back in shape, Mauro said he expects her to play the first or second position when she is at full strength.
Abdurakhimova is glad to have Chernykh back to give the Owls more talent heading into the conference tournament.
“It’s really good to have her back,” Abdurakhimova said. “She may not be in the perfect shape now, but I think it’s just one week, maybe two and she’ll be fine. Most importantly, she’ll definitely be fine for conference, so I’m really happy we have her back.”
“It’s going to take a couple more matches, hopefully sooner,” Mauro said. “I think if she gets two or three more matches under her belt she’ll be ready for the conference tournament.”
Mauro said Chernykh’s talent can give the Owls a solid lineup into The American’s tournament, which begins on April 19 in Orlando, Florida. At Rhode Island, Chernykh posted a 38-13 singles record in her first two seasons and was named to the 12-member Atlantic 10 Conference all-conference team.
“It’s a lift for the team,” Mauro said. “She’s such a talented player that she definitely gives us a lift at the top of the lineup. She makes our team even more competitive.
Graham Foley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @graham_foley3.