In the world of Ukrainian tennis, Lesia Bilak was a trailblazer. Ranked No. 3 in Juniors and No. 11 in Women’s tennis in Ukraine, Bilak was drawn to Peddie in the fall of 1993 to pursue her studies as a postgraduate student. A top student in her hometown of Uzhorod, Bilak’s decision to attend Peddie was in part because of the opportunities provided by Walter H. Annenberg ’27’s historic $100 million gift.
Bilak became the first girl at Peddie to win the New Jersey Prep A State Title in 1st singles following a remarkable 12-2 regular season. According to dorm supervisor Mark Gartner, “She played the game at a whole different level than the other kids.”
Professional tennis scouts described Bilak as a “powerful” blue chip prospect. The prediction that she would be an impact player in any top 20 college in the U.S. came to fruition at the University of Richmond, where she played No. 1 singles and doubles for three years. Bilak capped her career with an outstanding run in doubles at the 1998 Rolex National Intercollegiate Indoor Tennis Championships, the third leg of the 1997-98 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Grand Slam.
Ranked fifth going into the event, she and partner Bridget Merrick upset the top-seeded tandem from William & Mary to win the No. 1 doubles title. Bilak then focused on the No. 1 singles event. Having climbed as high as a No. 9 national ranking in singles, she systematically dispatched her opponents to reach the semifinals, where she lost to the eventual champion.
After graduating from Richmond with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies, Bilak spent almost a year on the professional women’s tennis tour playing in events around the world. In 1999, Bilak returned to Peddie to teach history and coach tennis. She made an immediate impact as the head coach of the girls’ tennis team and assistant coach of the boys. Under Bilak’s guidance, the girls’ tennis team compiled a winning record, but more important to her than wins and losses was the growth of each individual player. “It has been a privilege to give something back to a program and a school that did so much for me,” says Bilak.
It is a privilege to welcome Lesia Bilak ’94 into the Peddie Sports Hall of Fame for her trailblazing accomplishments in tennis.