More than 6,500 miles from her hometown of Samokov, Bulgaria, graphic communication freshman Ivana Nikolova has found a new family: the Cal Poly women’s basketball team. 

“I came on an official visit last year to Cal Poly and I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere,” Nikolova said. “Really everything, the people here, it was so nice.”

Nikolova played basketball for 10 years in Bulgaria. Most notably, she was on Bulgaria’s U-20, U-18 and U-16 youth national teams at the FIBA European Championships. After placing second in 2018 and fourth in 2019 in the Bulgarian League, Nikolova was named the Best Young Player of the Country in 2018 at the Vanya Voynova Tournament. 

Last year, she was recruited by the Cal Poly basketball staff to play forward on the Women’s Basketball team. After an initial visit, Nikolova said she connected with Cal Poly and her teammates. Despite the pandemic, she moved across the globe in August to begin training for the upcoming season. 

“I fell in love with the team and the coaches,” she said. “I feel like it’s my family here and I am going to get all of the support I need.”

The pandemic has presented Nikolova with many challenges, as she has had to go through quarantine multiple times already. In November, Nikolova was in her third quarantine, which caused her to miss her first basketball game. Two weeks later, however, she was ready to join her teammates for game two. 

Women’s Basketball kicked off their season on Nov. 25.

Q&A with Ivana Nikolova

The responses in this interview have been edited for brevity and clarity. This interview was conducted prior to the start of the Women’s Basketball season.

How has your experience at Cal Poly been impacted by the pandemic?

Any time someone on my team, or someone on my floor in the dorms, gets the virus, we have to quarantine. It’s been hard having to stay home and not be able to help the team and practice and prepare for the season. But it’s been really exciting, all of the factors that are impacting it right now. It’s been really fun — even virtually meeting new people like my classmates and professors is exciting. 

How have practices and games changed?

In the beginning of the school year, we had to wear gloves. We were not able to pass balls; we were running around playing basketball without a ball. It was a pretty funny experience. Right now we are able to have longer practices. We still practice with masks all the time, but for games we will be able to not use masks. We have to wear masks all the time when we are off the court though. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I love going to the beach here. I am a really artistic person, I love creating my art. I love spending time with my friends and meeting all the new people here. Although, COVID is making that pretty hard. 

What are your plans after college?

I really want to keep playing basketball when I finish school. I will probably go back to Europe and play professionally. Basketball and sports are only possible until a certain age. I am thinking about starting my own business in graphic communication. I am not really sure yet, but probably something with business. I want to do something with marketing, advertisement or graphic design. 

Which American basketball player inspires you the most?

Kobe Bryant is my favorite player. He has really inspired me to not give up, because he never gave up. 

What would you like to tell Cal Poly basketball fans? 

I am extremely excited to join the family of Cal Poly and I am excited to see what the future holds for me here. I promise to everyone who is a basketball fan, they will see someone really motivated in me when they come to our games.

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