By Noah Allison–

Around fifteen years ago in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a young energetic girl was running around uncontrollably giving her mother all sorts of grief. Now that grown girl is in Louisville, Kentucky, winning Big East Volleyball player of the year in 2011, leading her team as a senior and giving our opponents all sorts of grief.

Lola Arslanbekova has been a force to be reckoned with since she first arrived at U of L, winning Big East Freshman of the year, being named first team All Big East her first three years and winning Big East player of the year in 2011. She has led the Cardinals to 17 wins this season and has the team rolling into the last phase of the season.

“I was probably seven when I was first introduced to volleyball,” Arslanbekova said. “I have a lot of energy and my mom didn’t know what to do with it because I was crushing everything. I was running around everywhere and my mom would said, ‘Okay, I’m going to put you in some sort of sport so you can put all your energy there.’ The only class we had was volleyball, so we went down. I saw it, and I loved it!”

Arslanbekova has been one of the more impressive players in the Big East, earning the respect and fear of opponents across the map. In a recent loss to highly ranked University of Texas, Lola expressed her resounding resilience by posting a season high 29 kills in the close defeat. She has a competitive prowess about her that screams Cardinal pride.

“I have experience; I’ve been playing since I was seven—plus I had a good coach. He used to train men’s teams, and with his knowledge and how he practiced with us, it was almost like he was practicing with the guys. It was hard, and it was asking a lot from us, but because I love the sport and because I love to give everything on the court, I think it helped me,” Arslanbekova said.

Her coach was Mikhail Kolesnikov. Lola originally played for his wife, but by the time she was ten, he took over and coached her through high school. Under Coach Kolesnikov, Lola and her team made it to the 17’s National Championship of Uzbekistan. Living the better part of her life thousands of miles away from Louisville, Kentucky had its own unique impact on a girl just trying to go to college.

“I first came here Jan. 5th, 2009. That was actually just, ‘wow,’ because I came here and I didn’t know any English. I knew yes or no; that was it. They were talking to me, and I’m like ‘Coach, I don’t know what they’re saying, can you help me?’ So she translated some Russian to English. And I had a lot of tutors who helped me with school because they told me to do homework and I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do!’ I had two teammates who were Russian so they helped me. Assistant coaches helped me; they were translating for me. After six months, I got over the language barrier because I was in school. I got used to the new language, and it was sort of easier after that,” Arslanbekova said.

Finishing out her career on one of the best U of L volleyball teams’ wasn’t just coincidence. With good teaching and mentoring from head coach Anne Kordes and a solid squad accompanying her on the court, the success of this season is culminating from the work they have put into it.

“It would have to start from summer, because we started practicing in June and went the whole summer, whereas other teams go in in August right before the season, and it’s tough for them. Our team started practicing and working out all summer, and we didn’t stop. We didn’t have a break, so when it came to the season, we were already ready. So those teams that start in August, they are kind of out of shape, but we worked hard for this,” Arslanbekova said. “We have to continue to work hard. We have to play for each other, and we can’t worry about the other teams and what they do. We have to worry about what we train to do, to stay aggressive, and worry about our chemistry on our court, and that’s going to help us get through all of this.”

Lola recognizes that everything she has worked for since she was a seven year-old girl, first falling in love with volleyball, is proving that it can pay off in these last few games. She is closing her U of L career the only way she has lived it, as a fighter, and a winner.

“Win, every time, just win. Even if   everybody is telling us that we are going to lose, we are going to lose because they’re a better team we will say ‘No!’ We are going to prove that we can fight at least, because it’s Louisville,” Arslanbekova said. “You feel like when your playing at home, that it’s everybody playing for you, sharing for you. You feel those emotions that you want to win.”

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Photo: Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal