Nikhol Pluta: Resiliency . . . and a big smile



Pluta in a match against Lake Superior State

Niko Scarlatos

For most students set to attend college, staying at a local university or going to a school that is in the state they grew up in is an easier option than traveling afar. For Ashland University sophomore Nikhol Pluta, this wasn’t an option.

Not only did she leave her home state, she found herself on the complete other side of the United States following her dream of playing collegiate tennis.

Pluta grew up in Apple Valley, California and attended Granite High School for two years before transferring to a home-schooling program called Excelsior High School.

At the high school level, she had a perfect 36-0 record for her career in league play. Pluta did not always have the dream of pursuing the chance to play the sport, as she was an avid soccer player for part of her life, but decided to play tennis at the collegiate level and show off her talents.

Pluta can best be summed up in one word according to Director of Tennis Operations Lexi Bolesky: resiliency.

“Nikhol is very resilient and sees the bright side of life,” Bolesky said. “She always has a big smile on her face and always remains positive through adversity.”

After playing soccer for 10 years, dealing with multiple injuries and moving cross country, Pluta has been noticed for having the ability to bounce back and continue to perform at a very high level.

The California native was unfamiliar with Ashland University until Bolseky discovered her. Bolesky, in her second season at the helm of the Ashland University Women’s Tennis team, was able to find Pluta despite not being anywhere near the state of Ohio.

“She [Coach Bolesky] is just amazing at recruiting,” said Pluta. “We have at least four or five players from a different country and a lot of out of state players so she did an awesome job. I made a hype video and I don’t know how but somehow she found it. Ashland, Ohio was not on my radar at all.”

Despite being such a small school, AU continues to bring in people from all over the world to help develop the careers of student athletes. Nikhol is just one example of this.

For years, tennis has been seen as more of an individual sport at the professional level, but here at AU and at the collegiate level, team chemistry is a very crucial key to success.

“We get along so well both on and off the court,” said Pluta. “We will all go study together as a team, not because coach is forcing us to but because we all want to be together. We get breakfast, we get lunch, we get dinner. We spend so much time together so it is natural for each of us to be there for each other.”

Most, if not all, sports teams have great chemistry and get along well but Pluta sees this as a next level type of relationship with all of her teammates.

“I know a lot of teams are close but these girls seriously are my best friends. They are part of the reason I love being here at Ashland so much and it makes it so easy to have fun with them and cheer them on. Even if you aren’t playing. The girls that may not play as much are still so invested,” said Pluta.

The importance of having each and every player on the team buying into the process and getting involved in the team chemistry has gone a long way in keeping the team successful, Pluta said.

The Eagles are currently 3-1 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 8-2 overall, a record that is already better than the 2018 season.

A lot of adjusting has been made by Pluta since moving all the way from California to Ohio and it definitely took a toll on her in her freshman year.

“Last year was really tough with all the transitioning,” said Pluta. “The coldest it ever gets where I am from in California is like 40 degrees. When I first got here my body was just trying to get used to it and it led to me getting sick a lot.”

As an athlete, injuries can start to take a toll on the body of the player, but for Nikhol, she has shown the fight in herself by having the ability to get through each injury and come back stronger each time.

“At one point I was in a boot for a month and then I pulled my groin while dealing with a sickness. But as everything looked like it was going downhill, I just kept coming back time and time again,” Pluta said.

Pluta may only be a sophomore, but she has already made a huge impact within her team and around the AU campus, according to Bolesky.

“She is a hard worker and a great example of what an AU tennis player should be,” said Bolesky.

The Eagles play their next match at Wayne State on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 11 a.m.