No one can say Lenka Zelinska hits like a girl.
Because she doesn’t.
The female foreign exchange student from Slovakia is playing No. 2 singles for the Brainerd Warriors boys tennis team and has proven four meets into the season that she can play with the boys.
She recorded a 7-5, 6-1 win over Sartell’s Jared Forst on Tuesday despite battling a pulled groin muscle, which forced her match to stop briefly before play resumed.
“I had some problems today,” Zelinska said, “but I was trying to just keep my game going and do well.”
Unleashing powerful forehand and backhand strokes, and mixing in an occasional drop shot, Zelinska remained unbeaten in four matches.
“It’s an experience for me,” she said of playing on a boys team.
Zelinska, who’s believed to be the first girl to play for the Brainerd boys tennis team, attends a sports school in Kosice, the second-largest city in Slovakia. European countries typically sponsor club teams rather than high school teams.
The biggest difference, she said, between European and American tennis is the surface. And, she practiced twice a day in Slovakia.
“I played just on clay, so it’s kind of hard for me to play on hard courts, but it’s getting better,” Zelinska said.
She arrived in Brainerd in January and is hosted by the Julie and Joe Jedlicka family. Arriving in the winter, Zelinska missed playing for the Warrior girls tennis team in the fall. But Minnesota State High School League rules enable her to play for a boys team.
According to the MSHSL, “Girls must be allowed to try out for boys teams, contact or non-contact sports, even if a team for girls exists. Schools are required to offer single-sex teams for girls in certain circumstances as a means to remedy the past and continued discrimination against girls in sport.
“However, these teams must be offered on a completely voluntary basis, meaning that girls have the right to play on the all-girls team or to try out to play on a boys team.”
Warriors assistant coach Ellen Fussy said the Warriors have embraced Zelinska.
“She actually sits with them in the back (of the bus) now and sings along in all the songs,” Fussy said. “It’s been an easy transition for the boys. That’s a credit to her and a credit to our boys.”
Doubles player Reno Fussy called Zelinska “one heck of a tennis player.”
“She’s won all of her matches,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to get used to, it’s going to be a process, but it’s going pretty good. You’ve never played with a girl before in your season, but she’s really good and she’s an asset to the team.”
Reno Fussy said one benefit of having Zelinska as a teammate is she’s teaching her new teammates a little Slovakian.
“She’s giving us a few words, some fun words to throw around,” Reno said.
Warriors head coach Bruce Thompson said his players have adjusted to having a female teammate.
“At first it might have been an awkward situation but she’s blended in,” he said. “She comes to the courts to play every day and (the boys) respect that. They know how well she can hit, they know what she can do. They really do a nice job including her in the bus stuff and the different things going on.”