It's one thing for a freshman to move from the junior high level and compete against varsity athletes.
It's another for a freshman to excel at the varsity level.
That's what Brainerd freshman Kayla Huether has done for the Warrior girls' tennis team this fall. She has defeated eight of 11 opponents, at least seven of whom were seniors.
"It's such a big shift from junior high to varsity," Warriors coach Marnie Whalen said. "In junior high they play smaller sets. Kayla has had to battle. In our second week of practice we had a scrimmage where she had to play two matches with two sets and it was kind of exhausting. It's not that Kayla hasn't played tournaments, but even in tournaments you get a break."
Huether didn't break down last weekend on her way to winning the No. 1 singles title at the Camp Lake Hubert Invitational. She defeated Blue Earth junior Jenae Willette 10-7, Blaine sophomore Jenny Peterson 10-6, Osseo senior Kim Sauer 10-5 and Bemidji senior Maria Smith 10-9 (7-4 tiebreaker).
"The hardest match was Osseo," Huether said. "She got second. She was really powerful. She hit the ball really hard. The last match I played against Bemidji. She had a lot of spin on her serve.
"I didn't think I was going to (win it). I was just so much younger than everybody. I thought it was going to be really hard."
Whalen said Huether's strokes are rather flat right now. The coach said Huether needs to improve her second serve, slicing the ball and hitting the ball with top spin.
She also must become accustomed to the intensity and the length and amount of play at the varsity level.
"She's a smart player on the court," Whalen said. "She knows where she wants to put the ball. A lot of players just return the ball hard, not think where they're going to hit it. Kayla is really attuned to that.
Position: No. 1 singles
Other sports: Basketball, softball
Memorable sports achievement: Winning state eighth-grade traveling basketball title
Grade-point average: 3.0
Favorite subject: Physical education
Favorite food: Buffalo wings
Favorite TV show: "Friends"
Hobbies: Going to the beach, socializing with friends
Athlete she admires: Her brother, Justin
Parents: Jim and Kim Huether
"She came off junior high where she was winning everything. At first it was kind of a jolt. She expected to win everything. We pulled her aside and said this is a different world up here. It's not that we want to discourage her but you have to set the tone."
Huether didn't know what the tone would be playing against older players.
"It's been a lot harder than before because I never got to play against that good of players," she said, "but I'm playing my best, and it's been going pretty good."
It was a little intimidating going from junior high to varsity but her teammates and Whalen and her coaching staff have made the transition easy.
"I was a little nervous playing my first game at first singles," Huether said, "but it went fine."
Huether would liked to have gone undefeated but has turned her sights on team goals.
"I want our team to win some more," she said. "We're tied with last year's team for wins. They won two, we're at two right now."
Other notable efforts:
Chris Woodard, cross country running, won the boys' division of the Bemidji Invitational.
Jessica Reese, swimming, won two events and was on a winning relay against Little Falls.
Brianna Elg, swimming, won two events against Little Falls.
Paige Olson, volleyball, had 31 kills, 27 digs, 9 blocks and 5 ace serves in the Buffalo tournament.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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