When Kayla Huether joined the Brainerd junior high tennis program as a sixth grader in 2002, she rounded out a quartet of players that propelled the Brainerd Warriors' boys and girls tennis programs to excellence the past several years.
Combined Huether, Devin Larson, Corey Kuglin and Morgan Salo have been awarded "Hardest Worker" three times, "Most Improved" three times, "Most Valuable Player" three times and "All Conference" four times.
Larson, Kuglin, and Salo - all 2009 Brainerd High School graduates - led the Warriors boys' team to back-to-back Central Lakes Conference championships.
"My best memory of playing with my friends was our senior year of high school," Salo, a civil engineering major, said. "We were excited to graduate and we had a really good team. We won the conference and also took second at sections for the second year in a row. We knew it was our last time playing together as a team and we wanted to make the best of that season."
Even though Huether never had the opportunity to team up with Larson, Kuglin or Salo for the Warriors, the quartet of players have participated in several community mixed-doubles tournaments like the Paul Bunyan Open.
"Playing mixed doubles is a lot of fun because it's something different," Huether, an exercise science major, said. "Plus, it gives me the chance to play against other guys which I feel will benefit my game because of their power."
The time the quartet invested in playing for the Warriors and in the community tennis programs resulted in continued tennis careers at the college level.
"My friends and I played from the junior high level all the way the through high school together," Salo said. "Many of the memories I have come from playing with them."
Huether now plays for Minnesota State University of Moorhead, Larson is at Concordia College, Kuglin plays for Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida and Salo is at South Dakota State University.
"Tennis at the collegiate level is much more competitive," Larson, an International Business major, said. "You must try your best in every point."
As each player continues to develop their skills at the collegiate level, they return during the summers for regular practice, community tournaments and to give back to the program that shaped them into the players they are.
"I feel it is important for me to give back to Brainerd tennis because I have been given so much from it," Salo said. "I have had a lot of coaches and instructors over the years and I have been given a lot of information. I really want the programs in Brainerd to continue for years, and I want to be a part of keeping those programs running."
"These four players have always been committed to tennis even when they were young," said Lisa Salo, who teaches tennis for the Community Education Progam. "I have been impressed to see them grow their games to the level they are at, and most importantly to see that they are giving so much back to the sport of tennis in so many ways."
The first lesson the four would teach is that tennis is not just a power and finesse sport, but strategy as well.
"Tennis is a sport that takes a tremendous amount of focus," said Kuglin, an international business major. "Every time you play, you are challenging your mind. It becomes not just a battle on the court, but in each others heads as well."
Larson said: "You cannot explode and let your emotions overcome you. It is also a gentleman's sport, which has taught me to be a more respectful person."