Fierce competitors: Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright

Written by Julie Hying

In recent years, pickleball has become a favorite pastime, something that brings people together to enjoy competition, teamwork and good times. Local venues like Chicken N Pickle have grown in popularity as they offer a fast, casual restaurant as well as gaming and gathering spaces — but the main focal point is the action on their ten pickleball courts. Local pickleball powerhouses Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright played in an invitational tournament at Chicken n’ Pickle in the fall of 2018.

Pickleball’s popularity has grown among people of all ages and is played by some on a professional, highly competitive level. Wichitans Kovalova and Wright have taken their love for the sport, along with their athleticism, and charged forward to compete in tournaments around the nation.

Kovalova, originally from Slovakia, became a Wichita State Shocker and played on their tennis team. Wright competed on the men’s tennis team at The University of Michigan. They began playing together in the fall of 2015 when they met at a college tennis match. Wright subbed in for Kovalova’s assistant coach, and the two of them quickly became friends.

Later that year they began playing pickleball together. They competed together for the first time in 2016 at the US Open in Naples, FL. They persevered in the mixed doubles category until they finally lost in a semi-final round. From then on, they were hooked on the sport and continued to compete. Kovalova shares that, “In the beginning we were playing in two or three tournaments a year. Now we’re competing in about fifteen each year.”

They both compete as individuals as well. But together, they are a dynamic duo whose on-court chemistry has led to many successes in the sport, including the Tournament of Champions in 2017 and 2018 as well as other smaller tournaments where they dominated and won it all.

Kovalova and Wright play pickleball at a professional tier that features intense competition. Others enjoy the amateur and senior levels of play. To prepare for their matches and tournaments, they play against other strong players to hone their skills and stay at the top of their game.

They prefer indoor courts because the game can be played much faster, and they don’t have the interference of heat, cold, sun or wind. However, almost all of their tournament play is experienced on outdoor courts throughout the year, usually in California, Arizona or Florida during the winter months.

Although passionate about pickleball, Wright and Kovalova have many other interests and enjoy spending time with their families and other friends. Kovalova’s family, her mom and dad as well as her sister and brother, live in Slovakia, so Facetime allows her to visit with them often. Wright’s family resides in town, and he enjoys their company and likes to spend time with them on the weekends. He works as an attorney here in Wichita, and Kovalova is a tennis and pickleball instructor at The Wichita Country Club. Both of them are high energy, positive people and pickleball is a natural outlet for their enthusiasm and athleticism.

When asked what she most enjoys about the sport, Kovalova shared this. “Matt and I love this sport. We both love competing and enjoy traveling to our tournaments, playing at awesome venues and meeting amazing people. We’re both very competitive and pickleball allows us to compete at the highest level and succeed in our sport.”

Wright added, “Pickleball allows us to travel and see various areas of the country. It’s competitive but also a lot of fun. As a sports enthusiast, this allows me to play competitively and compete at the highest level.”

Along with the travel and fun, being a winning pickleball team can also garner prize money. Some tournaments pay out $10,000 to the top playing team. Other venues such as Las Vegas offer larger prizes, as their total winnings may be distributed among top teams and individuals from a larger pot of $150,000. Wright and Kovalova are excited for their upcoming tournament, October 1–3, at the Texas Open in Dallas.

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