Never Left WSU
Editor's Note: The following story is part of a series highlighting the members of the 2022 Washington State Athletic Hall of Fame Class. The Hall of Fame induction will take place, Sept. 16-17, at the Washington State University campus. The induction dinner will be held Sept. 16 at Beasley Coliseum with the 2022 class also being recognized at the Washington State-Colorado State football game at Gesa Field the following day. For ticket information on the induction dinner, please click HERE
Eka Burduli remembered the first time she saw Pullman.
As she described, "Like it was yesterday."
"I flew from Israel to Newark and connected in Spokane," she said while speaking on the phone from her Spokane, Wash., home. "Lisa (Hart) picked me up from airport and we drove hour and a half to Pullman."
What stood out to her was the scenery.
"I thought it was so beautiful," Burduli said. "You can't go by the rolling hills of the Palouse and not think it's pretty."
She could also sense nervousness from Hart, the coach of the Cougar tennis team, during the ride.
Burduli's assessment turned out to be accurate.
"I was nervous for sure," Hart, the head coach of Cougar tennis from 2003-2021 and currently the associate tennis head coach at the University of Nebraska, remembered. "I knew how good she was. I had a feeling she was going to be so important for our program."
Burduli turned out to be more than good during her career. By its conclusion, she compiled a list of accomplishments that included a school-record 91 singles victories and leading the program to the NCAA Championships for the first time in six years.
It's a resume that will be added to when Burduli is inducted to the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame in September.
From Israel to Pullman
Burduli's journey to WSU started half a world away.
Born in the country of Georgia, Burduli's introduction to the game was, as she described, "love at first sight."
"I watched my cousin playing tennis and my mom noticed I would light up when we went to the tennis courts," she explained.
Burduli remembered winning the first tournament she played in, and the prize.
"A few pounds of apples," she said. "Fruit was so hard to come by."
Burduli and her mom emigrated to Israel, where she continued to develop her tennis game, a game that helped her in the transition to a new country.
"I struggled to learn the language and tennis is what saved me at the time," Burduli said. "I looked forward to after school every day. It really gave me a lot of confidence."
Burduli wanted to play professionally, but the path was difficult.
"I realized it is really difficult without money," Burduli explained, "especially because tennis is not a team sport. You have to find everything on your own and it was not realistic for me to travel 20 weeks out of the year to tournaments in Europe."
Faced with a decision to give up tennis or go to college, Burduli made a decision.
"I didn't want to miss out on tennis and college allowed me to keep playing," she explained.
Burduli said she "put the word out" through friends who were already at colleges about her interest and received some sage advice as she embarked on her search.
"A friend who just graduated told me that, while it was important where you go, the most important thing is your coach," Burduli said. "Your coach is going to be your mom and dad away from home and other things become secondary.
"I took it to heart."
Burduli connected with Hart and during their first phone conversation, when Hart mentioned Washington State, Burduli's mind went to Washington D.C..
"I remember Lisa keeps mentioning Pullman and thinking 'What is Pullman?'" Burduli said, laughing.
To find out, Burduli went to an internet café in Tel Aviv and googled Pullman.
"I got really excited." Burduli described her reaction when she saw pictures of campus and Pullman. "Tel Aviv is a big place and I didn't want a big city. I wanted a different experience.
"The pictures of campus were beautiful."
"I was really excited about Eka because of her personality over the phone," Hart said. "Her results looked good and I loved her personality, but I needed to see some footage, so she sent me a tape."
The tape from Israel wouldn't work in a standard VHS player, so Hart went to the WSU Library where there was a machine able to show the footage.
"I was up there forever because I loved the video," Hart said. "I just watched and watched."
When Hart saw Burduli hit in person, she realized someone special had arrived to her program.
"I knew she was a program changer and that is what she ended up being," Hart said.
A Senior Day to remember
Burduli wasted no time making an impact, defeating the No. 6 player in the nation, Dea Sumantri of the University of Washington, as a freshman.
"I remember being a little nervous but I gained confidence as the match was going along," Burduli said. "It paved the way to have higher expectations for myself."
Burduli entered her senior season with 63 wins and the victory total continued to increase throughout the 2008 season.
The regular season concluded against Washington at Pullman. Just a month earlier, the Cougars lost 6-1 to the Huskies at Seattle including a Burduli loss to Venise Chan 6-1, 6-1.
Burduli would once again face Chan at the Fieldhouse on the WSU campus. A team berth to the NCAA Championships for the first time in six years was at stake.
"It was a huge personal challenge and a team challenge," Burduli said.
Burduli met the challenge, scoring a huge win over Chan, then the No. 30 ranked player, 6-1, 7-6 (3). The win was Burduli's 91st of her career and her 28th of season and, more importantly for Burduli, it propelled the Cougars to a 4-3 team victory and a berth to the NCAA Championships.
"I will never forget that day," Burduli said. "Such a sweet memory. It was as sweet as sweet gets."
After the season, Burduli was set to graduate with a degree in psychology, and to leave a placed she loved.
"I was about to graduate and was so sad because I knew I was about to leave Pullman," Buduli said. "I really fell in love with Pullman. It wraps you so much love. It feels like you are part of a big family."
An opportunity to become an assistant coach for Hart came up and Burduli didn't hesitate to take it.
"It meant I got to stay in Pullman," she said.
Coug for life
While coaching, Burduli continued her education starting graduate school pursuing a PhD in psychology.
"At age 18, I didn't see a life without professional tennis because that's what I was training for since I was four years old," Burduli said. "All of sudden, I became exposed to so many different things. I realized I enjoyed other things, especially studying, and I definitely wanted to earn my PhD."
Burduli's interest in psychology was peaked as a student.
"As a junior, I worked with a sports psychologist and realized techniques that really helped me get over issues with anxiety I had off the court and on," Burduli said. "It's a fascinating field for me."
Burduli earned her PhD and remains at WSU as an assistant professor at the College of Nursing at WSU Spokane. She teaches, conducts research and mentors students with a focus on studying the impact of substance use on maternal health outcomes.
As Burduli reflects on her career and her upcoming Hall of Fame induction, an honor she is grateful to be a part of this 2022 all-female class in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
An honor she believes would not be possible without Title IX.
"Without Title IX, you and I wouldn't be talking. You wouldn't be interviewing me." Burduli said. "I grew up in an era where it was a given that girls can play sports at any level, so I can't even imagine there was a time when that was not a given.
"So many amazing women worked toward getting us to that point so people like me didn't have to think twice about these opportunities," Burduli added. "I am incredibly grateful to that time and the remarkable strong people who advocated for this so me and many, many others has the opportunity to enrich college sports. I am really proud to be a part of this class."
"She had so much pride in WSU and loves being a Coug," Hart said of Burduli. "I'm just so incredibly proud of her. She is one of those people who is going to be successful know matter what she does."
Now a mother of two, Burduli reflects on how WSU has become part of her family.
"Cougs are a family for life," she said. "I came to WSU as a 19-year old and each experience at WSU is comprised of people. I'm extremely lucky to meet so many incredible people who helped me. I've been at this one institution, but my experiences have been so rich and so diverse. It's made me who I am today.
"I'm glad I made the decision to come to WSU. The best decision I ever made."