BUTTE — While flying some 6,000 miles from her home country of Ukraine to play volleyball for Eastern Arizona College two years ago, Masha Korol felt a brief moment of hesitation somewhere over the Atlantic.
"There was an American guy sitting next to me, talking to me, and I couldn't understand him because of his accent," she recalled, noting that her English has improved greatly since she arrived in the U.S. "I was kind of nervous and scared. I thought to myself, 'What are you doing? Where are you going?'"
A supportive team at EAC, paired with stellar play from the outside hitter position, helped her overcome any lingering uncertainty during her career with the Gila Monsters.
Korol is now continuing her American adventure in The Treasure State, where the 6-foot-2 junior transferred to Montana Tech for the 2017 season to play for the Orediggers volleyball squad.
Tech opens its season on Wednesday with a two-day, four-game slate at the Hope International University/Vanguard Summer Slam in Fullerton, California.
Tech will play Southern Oregon and Corban University — the latter of which finished last season at No. 16 to Tech's No. 15 ranking — in the tournament's first day. The 'Diggers will battle Trinity Christian and Hope International on Thursday.
“We’re really excited to see what we can do this season," said coach Brian Solomon. "We’re at that point where we need to see some other teams and see where we stand."
Korol — originally from the town of Ukrainka, about 30 miles south of the capital of Kiev — is ready to contribute to her team's run at another playoff appearance.
“My team all looks pretty good individually and I’m pretty excited for our season," said the Data Science major. "We had a good team in Arizona, but this is a different level."
Korol was a standout player at EAC and in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference, raking fifth in total kills (309) during the 2016 season and earning first team All-ACCAC and first team All-Region honors in the same year.
Her penchant for point-clinching attacks made the decision to recruit her an easy one for Solomon, who said she's the first international student he's had on his roster in his six years at Tech.
“She’s a really neat fit for us and her academic focus and background fits us perfectly," said Solomon. "Just to have her on campus is great."
After finishing her two years at EAC, Korol relied on two forms of guidance in choosing where to transfer. One was advice from her older brother. The other, a less-traditional source of academic direction, was Wikipedia.
“I opened a list on Wikipedia of schools that had academic programs I was interested in," said Korol with a small chuckle. "Montana Tech was one of them."
She then consulted with her brother, who holds a Ph.D in physics.
“I like mathematics and he’s good at that stuff,” said Korol, whose volleyball career began with club teams in both Kiev and Ukrainka when she was 10. “And out of all the schools I sent him, he said Montana Tech was the best.”
Her choice solidified, she arrived in Butte in mid-May after spending two years enjoying the year-round warmth of the Southwest.
She soon received a proper Montana welcome — a late spring blizzard — and recalled her first days in Butte, saying, “I was expecting it to be cold, but not that cold."
Despite the English learning curve, Korol says most of the Americans she's encountered have been courteous and hospitable.
“Americans are more friendly, more smiley — at first it almost seemed fake,” she said, contrasting them with her more stoic Ukrainian counterparts. "There's a lot you can learn from them."
After a lengthy summer, Korol is anxious to get the season and the new school year underway.
"I'm just really excited for the season to start," she said. "We have so many good players and freshman that have lots of potential. I think it's gonna work out pretty good."
Notes: The Montana Tech volleyball team found itself in a tie for second place in the Frontier Conference coaches’ poll, released on Tuesday.
Defending champion Carroll College was picked to repeat as the top team and garnered six of seven first-place votes. The Orediggers picked up the other first-place vote and 28 total points. Rocky Mountain College also picked up 28 points.
Lewis-Clark State (18 points), Providence College (18), MSU-Northern (10) and Montana Western (9) rounded out the poll.