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Minium: Alex Viktorovitch has Dedicated Her ODU Women's Tennis Career to Her Deceased Father

Viktorovitch has been a part of four conference championship teams


Alex Viktorovich with her father, Igor

NORFOLK, Va. – The Old Dominion women’s tennis team had just passed through security at the Norfolk International Airport and were waiting for a plane that would take them to matches against Iowa and Colorado in Iowa City.

But then came a phone call that changed Alexandra Viktorovitch’s life, and ended the road trip before it really began.

The freshman from Jankoping, Sweden was told that her father, Igor, had died suddenly. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a few months earlier, and it is among the deadliest of cancers.

He was just 57 years old.

Her father had been the one who pushed her to play tennis and to come to America to study and further her game.

“He was just my best friend in the whole world,” said Alex, as she is called by her friends. “He was the one who was traveling with me to play tennis. He was such a good person.

“It just completely destroyed me when he died.

“But I also knew that he would not want to see me crash, to see me quit. So, I was on the court two days later.”

More than five years later, she is still playing and also still grieving.

“I’ve never got to understand it, why it happened. I’ve just learned to live with it and accept it. I just hope to see him again someday.

“Everything I’ve just done since was to make him proud.”

If he is watching from Heaven, as Alex believes, he is indeed proud. The fifth-year senior has excelled both athletically and academically at ODU.

She helped lead ODU to its fourth conference title in a row when the Monarchs defeated Appalachian State in the Sun Belt championship last weekend.

One of the most highly-rated recruits to sign with ODU, she was 19-9 in singles this season and was named First Team All-Sun Belt Conference.

An honor roll student, she already has an undergraduate degree in business management and will graduate in December with her MBA.

Alex and her teammates take on South Carolina Saturday at 11 a.m. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at North Carolina State University.

Last weekend’s Sun Belt victory allowed Alex to become the first tennis player ever at ODU to be a part of four championship teams – the Monarchs won two Conference USA titles before winning the last two Sun Belt crowns.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “I’ve loved my time here at ODU. How many players get to be a part of four championship teams?”

Alex looks Swedish, with blue eyes and blondish-brown hair. But ethnically, she is Russian, as you might have guessed from her last name. And that’s a major reason why she came to ODU.

Before she was born, her parents lived in Belarus and then Russia before immigrating to Sweden in search of a better life.

They were both musicians who struggled at times to make ends meet in Sweden. They traveled often but they made sure their two kids were taken care of.

Her brother, Alexej, lives in Finland where the former piano player is now a producer who creates music for Asian audience by computer. And, yes, his name is awfully similar to his sister’s.

“My parents allowed my brother to pick my name,” Alex said with a smile. “We’re both Alex.”

She speaks Russian fluently, because that’s what her parents spoke at home. Her parents knew that she needed to speak English in the modern world, so they enrolled her in an English school in Sweden in the fifth grade.

Curiously, she speaks both Russian and English to her teammates, depending on who she’s talking to. 

Four of her seven teammates speak Russian as their mother tongue and associate head coach Yana Sokolenko is also fluent in Russian – she grew up in Belarus but also has Russian, Ukrainian and Polish ancestors.

All six chattered in Russian Monday night as the Monarchs sat in the L.R. Hill Sports Center waiting to hear who and where they would play this weekend.

Head coach Dominic Manilla credits Sokolenko with recruiting five Russian speakers, including Victoria Matasova (Malye, Kabany, Russia), Kira Matushkina and Lidiia Rasskouskaia (St. Petersburg, Russia) and Ulyana Romanova (Kazakhstan).

“I might have been able to recruit Alex without Yana,” Manilla said. “But I doubt it. Yana is the one who brought in all of those girls.”

For ODU, getting Alex was an epic recruiting victory. Alex had more than 100 scholarship offers. She visited Ole Miss, Pepperdine, the University of Miami and ODU. Texas made a late recruiting pitch.

In the end, a jar of borscht, a sour vegetable soup popular in Eastern Europe, helped close the deal for ODU.

Sokolenko’s mother, Tamara, was in town during her visit and made soup for Alex. She wasn’t enamored with the jar she was given until she heard her teammates, including Yuliia Starodubtseva, said they would gladly take it and described how good it would taste.

“Alex changed her mind,” Sokolenko said with a smile.

 It was one more reminder that ODU’s coaching staff and players go out of their way to make international players feel welcome, a reputation known far and wide in the tennis world.

One of Alex’s coaches in Sweden knew Sokolenko and spoke highly of her and ODU’s program. And they also had family connections – Sokolenko grew up in the same town in eastern Belarus where Alex’s mother grew up.

Alex visited ODU largely because of Sokolenko. “I trusted her more than some of the other coaches I didn’t know anything about,” Alex said. “It wasn’t good enough for me to just draw a conclusion based on a school’s name.

“I just went on my instinct.”

And it didn’t hurt that she’s a dog lover. Manilla heard she loved dogs and brought his dog on campus during her recruiting visit.

“Everyone said, ‘don’t bring the dog,’ but Alex loved the dog,” Sokolenko said. Alex committed to ODU before returning home.

And in this era of NIL and the transfer portal, she also stayed at ODU. She admits briefly considering transferring.

“But there was no reason to leave,” she said. “I’m very happy here. The program is great. I love the facilities the university and the coaches.

“I can’t imagine having a better experience anywhere else.”

It didn’t hurt that she is engaged to former ODU baseball pitcher Noah Dean, who plays at the Class-A level for the Salem, Virginia, Red Sox. Dean stays in Norfolk during much of the offseason and was at ODU Monday when the team learned who and where it will play.

Dean had planned to propose to her in Sweden, but after he bought the ring, “he proposed at home. He just saw the ring and couldn’t wait,” Alex said.

Eventually, hopefully after Dean has a long pitching career at Boston’s Fenway Park, she and Dean will settle in Sweden.

“Noah likes Sweden almost as much as I do,” Alex said.

Alex seems more mature than her age and that’s perhaps because she grew up quickly. When she was 15 when moved to Stockholm, a 3 ½-hour drive to the northeast from her hometown, to play for a tennis academy.

“I lived in a little apartment by myself,” she said. “I learned to do everything on my own.

“My parents raised us to be independent. I traveled a lot growing up, so I had to do a lot of things on my own.

“I was lonely and homesick at times, but I adjusted.”

Nonetheless, she wasn’t prepared to lose her father at age 19. Five years later, it’s not all that much easier.

She had only recently lost her grandmother when her father died. Shortly after her father died, the pandemic shut down much of the world, and she traveled home to Sweden for much of 2020.

“It was tempting to stay” in Sweden, she said. “But my mother wanted me to return. And I knew that’s what my father would have wanted for me.”

Her father and mother were so determined for her to go to school at ODU that they hid just how sick he was from her.

“They knew staying here was the best thing for me,” she said.

Manilla said the coaches and players reached out to Alex when they think she needs to talk about things and other times, leave her alone.

“Alex was obviously in a lot of pain at first,” he said. “And I know it’s still on her mind.

“But she’s so mature. She’s such a cool young woman.

“When I think of Alex, I don’t think of her as a tennis player. I think of her as a well-rounded person who’s into music and the arts. She’s an encyclopedia of music.”

Alex talks frequently with her mother, Valentina.

“It’s hard knowing that my Mom is all alone,” she said. “I worry about her.”

And she continues to wonder why her father got sick.  

 “My father, he was an active man. He biked to work every day. There’s was no reason for him to get that sick that I could see," she said. 

The last time she spoke to her father, on a FaceTime call, she did virtually all the talking – he could barely speak.

“At that point, I was hardly even playing singles,” she said. “I wanted to go home. But he wanted me to stay. I was not in a good place.

“(His death) changed my life. It really altered everything for me.

“Now, everything I do is for him.”

Minium is ODU's Senior Executive Writer for Athletics. Contact him at or follow him  on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

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