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It’s rare that I get personal on here, but we’re making an exception with this one. In my brief time working for a publication at Syracuse University, I wanted to write features about some of the athletes to help tell their story and magnify the platform they have. It didn’t work out and I ended up leaving the site to focus on broadcasting and academics. One of my biggest regrets is that I never got to publish the only feature I started. Today, it’s time to make up for it.
Volleyball holds a special place in my heart. It’s how I got my start in play by play and I’ve continued to seek out opportunities to call the sport. As a result, I’ve met and got to watch a lot of great players. As if it was scripted, I came across another great player when I got to Syracuse. Let me introduce you to my good friend Polina Shemanova.
Polina is originally from St. Petersberg, Russia. She was granted a fifth year of NCAA eligibility due to the pandemic. Like others, she decided to pursue a master’s degree. She chose to stay at Syracuse and joined the Broadcast News and Digital Journalism program, as well as the Sports Media and Communications program. Naturally, I was in the sports program too so it didn’t take long for our paths to cross. In fact, I was waiting to meet her.
We were in our second week of the summer session in July in our late night Wednesday sports class. Professional attire we required every night. This time we were walking to the JMA Wireless (should still be Carrier) Dome to tour it. Our professor said we had about 10 minutes before it started to rain so we had to get moving. Well, apparently 10 minutes in Cuse roughly equals two seconds - we immediately got soaked. We stopped for cover from the monsoon we were in because naturally we were all dripping wet. Next thing I know, I here in a happy sounding Russian accent “does anyone have an allergy pill?” I turn around to see all six feet of Polina.
So on top of being wet, now our concerns shifted to the thought of somebody possibly having an allergic reaction and dropping dead. To break the awkward silence, I ask “what are you allergic to?” The response with a smile on her face was of course what we were all thinking off….mustard. Realizing we were in the clear, we took a few minutes to regroup and wring out our clothes. I was curious, so I went over and asked “mustard huh?”.
That was the start of a beautiful friendship. We spent the rest of the night talking about volleyball, broadcasting, the Olympics, and more. By the end of the night, I made a new friend and a new goal - becoming the top volleyball broadcasting team with Polina and calling the Olympics together. This of course after she plays pro for at least a decade and wins a bunch of championships and gold medals. We spoke it into existence and we are running with it.
Okay, I know this is getting a little long so we’re going to fast forward a little. Hang in there with me. Take a break, get some coffee, do what you need to do to get through this. It’ll be worth your time, I promise. Polina and I kept in touch and I went to as many Syracuse volleyball games as I could. Eventually, she got a chance to call games on ACC Network Extra during neutral sight games at Cuse. You never would have guessed it was her first time. We got lucky and through making some connections at SUNY Cortland, we called our first game together in the fall. It was the championship between SUNY Cortland and SUNY Brockport. It was a great game and our chemistry was off the charts amazing. Polina made that broadcast what it was. The energy and quality of the call would not have been the same without her.
It’s crazy that this journey of hers almost never happened. Playing in the states was never the goal for the St. Pete superstar. She casually started playing volleyball on the beach with her parents, who also played, and then began learning the game at eight years old. In Russia, she was able to represent her country winning two bronze medals with the junior national team. When the opportunity to play in the US came about based on a suggestion from a friend who played at Syracuse, the only other that showed interest was Oregon State. Safe to say everything worked out. I admire Polina for so many reasons, but one of the biggest is because of the decision she made.
Taking a chance to go to another part of the world away from everyone and everything you know is not for the faint of heart. Like on the court, she’s handles it with grace under fire. Her work ethic both in the classroom and in sports are second to none. I feel honored to have been able to see her break the all time kill record in Syracuse history finishing with 1,845, breaking a record that stood the test of time for 20 years. I’ll always cherish that postgame hug. Because of all of this, she will be playing professionally for the new Pro Volleyball Federation for their team in Atlanta. As a journalism school, we broke the news the only way we know how. Click the link to check it out.
But all of this is not the most important thing to know about Polina Shemanova. Besides already being an all time great as a player, she is an all time great person. Her enthusiasm and positive attitude can light up a room when she walks in. She is one of the most genuinely kind people you will ever be around. What more can you ask for in someone?
While her feats on the court are amazing, I am most proud to have Polina as one of my best friends and my volleyball partner in crime.