Two former players die in plane crash
By JON SOLOMON
CLEMSON — Two former Clemson women’s tennis players died in a plane crash Saturday night near the Grand Canyon, school officials confirmed Monday.
Milena Stanoycheva, 26, and Ania Dolinska, 22, were among four people killed when the plane crashed while en route to Las Vegas, where Stanoycheva was to be married that night..
Also killed were Stanoycheva’s fiancee, Albert Glen Howle, 33, of Greenville; and his father Jerry Howle, 57, of Reno, Nev., who was piloting the amateur-built plane.
Stanoycheva was still enrolled in graduate school at Clemson. She was an All-ACC player two years ago. Dolinska played at Georgia State this season after transferring in 2003. She earned three varsity letters at Clemson.
The single-engine plane was heading to North Las Vegas when it crashed about a mile from the Grand Canyon due to unknown reasons, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman told the Associated Press.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating.
The pilot had been speaking with a traffic controller when contact with the plane was lost, the FAA said. The crash occurred south of the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai Indian Reservation and was witnessed by people on the canyon’s North Rim, officials told the AP.
“It’s such a terrible loss," Clemson coach Nancy Harris said.
The women met in 2001, when Stanoycheva transferred from a junior college and Dolinska arrived as a freshman, and became fast friends.
"Ania always looked up to Milena," said current tennis player Richele LeSaldo, who was roommates and played doubles with them as a freshman.
"Ania would joke around and say, ‘Milena’s my mom.’”
Stanoycheva, originally from Bulgaria, had a 30-28 singles record and a 26-24 doubles mark during her two seasons. She was Clemson’s No. 3 singles player in 2001 and made the All-ACC team in 2002 at No. 6 singles with a 22-16 record.
Stanoycheva graduated from Clemson in May 2003 with a degree in management and was pursuing a master’s in human resource development, assistant sports information director Anne Miller said. Both women were academic All-Americans.
Dolinska, a native of Poland, was 26-27 as a singles player and 39-44 in doubles between 2001 and 2003.
She played primarily on Clemson’s No. 2 and 3 doubles teams before transferring to Georgia State, where she was the No. 5 singles at last month’s Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
Harris and LeSaldo remembered Stanoycheva as a caring person always looking to help, and Dolinska for how she lived life to its fullest.
Dolinska’s daring side was evident when the Clemson players, participating in a team-bonding exercise, once walked on a rope 30 feet above the ground.
“Milena and I were so scared,” LeSaldo said. “We’d stop and rest at different stations to cry, and we’d look back and see Ania breezing through with a huge smile on her face. She liked risks like that.”
Clemson players learned of the deaths in a team meeting Sunday night after celebrating their NCAA Tournament victory against South Carolina. Several current players were teammates with Stanoycheva and Dolinska.
“They’re tremendously upset. It was very devastating news for them,” Harris said. “It really takes your nerves away from tennis and puts a lot of things in perspective.”
When Clemson plays a round-of-16 match Thursday against Texas A&M, the players will wear a white tiger paw with the women’s initials on their sleeves.
Harris had recently received a Bulgarian doll from Stanoycheva that she always wanted to give her coach.
Last Friday, Stanoycheva sent an e-mail message congratulating Harris on the team’s success and wishing the Tigers luck.
Harris read the message to the team Sunday night.
“She was so proud of us for having a great season, and she said she was sure we could win the national championship,” LeSaldo said. “She said she was keeping her fingers crossed and she’d be watching out for us.”