Nearly a year after the tennis program was cut, some former players are still feeling the pain from the university’s decision.
On April 6, 2018, Eastern Kentucky University was forced to cut multiple academic and sports programs because of a $25 million shortfall. The university cut a total of $13.2 million from the academic department, and $2 million from the athletic department. The cuts in the athletic department led to the men's and women’s tennis programs being terminated, despite being some of the most successful sports programs at EKU.
The men’s team has won four Ohio Valley Conference tournament titles since 2009. At the time of the cut, the women had won three, but went on to win the tournament in 2018 as well. After that, the team earned a berth to the NCAA national championships in Atlanta. The tennis program has combined for a total of eight NCAA national championship appearances since 2009, which is among the most out of any sports program at EKU in that period of time.
This cut was especially hard on the tennis program as most of these athletes are not from the United States. In fact, out of the 18 players that were a part of the EKU tennis program at the time, only one of them was from the U.S.
Junior Viktorija Demcenkova, a former player on the women's team, said that when she found out, she didn’t know how seriously to take it, as she thought there was a chance that the program would stay.
"My first thoughts were filled with confusion, I didn't fully understand what was going on, and we were playing conference matches as well which made things very stressful," Demcenkova said.
When she found out tennis was getting cut, she was given two options: finish out her time at EKU and keep her scholarships, or find a new school to attend. She decided that she wanted to attend Coastal Carolina University, but had to renew her health insurance and for three months had trouble transferring her credits over.
She said it was hardest to say goodbye to the team she had grown so close to.
“From my freshman year we were building a team and at the end, we created a family,” Demcenkova said.
Coming off the recent success of the women's tennis team, it was not hard for Demcenkova to find a school that wanted her. In the beginning of the semester at Coastal Carolina, she found it stressful having to adapt to the school, teammates and an area that she was unfamiliar with. The only message she said she would like to convey to EKU now is to give thanks for the opportunities provided and that said she hopes the university doesn’t cut any more teams and make more athletes go through what she went through.
Sophomore Josh Piunti, a former member of the men’s team, talked about his transition from the school and said he faced obstacles he never would have expected when he came to EKU from Australia.
When Piunti first found out that the program was being cut, he immediately wondered where he would go from here. When he told the university that he wanted to transfer instead of finishing out his school at EKU, he said they provided him with no help. Being an international student, Piunti felt like he faced extra mental obstacles.
“I personally took a long time to shake off the homesickness and adapt to living so far away from home, so when you finally get comfortable it's tough to get thrown back into the unknown again,” Piunti said.
With only being a sophomore, he was just starting to become comfortable with the area and his friends, which led him to not being prepared to do it all over again. He said he felt embarrassed to have to go back home and tell his family that their team had been cut.
“Even though what was happening was out of my control, I still felt like I was letting them down,” Piunti said.
Being back home over the summer also made it very difficult to get in contact with other coaches, Pinunti said. He ended up deciding to transfer to Georgetown College, where he continues to play tennis.
While Pinunti said he enjoys it at his new school, he still misses EKU and all the memories he made there. His message to the university almost one year later after the cut is that he hopes they would have thought more about the negative cultural impact that the university made by cutting the tennis program.
“We, the cut team, devoted our lives to packing our bags and playing for the Colonels; you just don’t get a group of athletes like that everywhere,” Pinunti said.
The former EKU athletes only know of a couple of their old teammates who made the decision to stay at Eastern. Despite the university deciding to make these cuts, they still are facing issues with money. While the cut of the tennis team did help, it will not completely solve the problem as in 2018 EKU's total debt, including its pension liability, was 3.1 times its operating revenue, the highest for any of the universities and well in excess of the 1.2 times median for all public universities.