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Softball was her game but, now, tennis is bringing her acclaim.
Karissa Hayes was not introduced to the sport of tennis until her freshman year of high school, but ended her senior season at Beddingfield High as the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference Player of the Year in girls tennis. A softball player since age 4, Hayes, this past season, went undefeated in conference (8-0) and regular-season (12-0) competition in the Lady Bruins’ No. 1 slot and seized the singles championship in the conference tournament. Hayes finished 12-1 at No. 1 doubles and posted a 15-2 overall singles record.
“Tennis kind of overtook softball (as her favorite sport),” Hayes said. “I enjoyed tennis more. In softball, if a mistake is made, it’s a team thing. In tennis, I like the fact it’s me — and only me. If I make a mistake, it’s up to me to correct it. It’s nobody’s fault but mine. Tennis is now my priority.”
Hayes plans to play softball her senior season, but has committed to continue her tennis career at Montreat College.
“I’m proud and happy for her,” declared Beddingfield head coach Jeremy Howard, who is also Hayes’ head softball coach. “She was a tough go for anybody that drew her. She thinks so well on the court. She deserves everything coming to her.”
Displaying an effective backhand, Hayes sparked Beddingfield to the conference championship and into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A playoffs. She is joined on the all-conference unit by senior teammates Yaqueline Rangel and Jaylah Moore and sophomore Annie Greene. Greene compiled a 11-2 record at No. 5, while Moore was 10-3 at No. 3 and Rangel 9-4 at No. 2. Hayes was tabbed All-EPC for the fourth year and posted a 55-16 career record.
Runner-up North Johnston landed Maria Teruel, Oliva Gachuz and Samantha Davis. Davis teamed with Arial Pearce to win the doubles championshuip in the conference tournament.
SouthWest Edgecombe’s selections were Reagan Webb and Lizzie Johnson.
Completing the all-league unit are Nash Central’s Sarah Radjail and Krystal Sanchez and Farmville Central’s Lauren Shackelford and Sydney Wade.
Upon arriving at Beddingfield, Hayes realized Howard was aware of her accomplished middle school athletic background.
But of her reaction when Howard suggested she try tennis, Hayes reacted: “I thought he was crazy; I had never picked up a racquet in my life.
“The first two weeks were terrible. I was so stressed. But I picked things up pretty quickly. Coach Howard worked me really hard. He and (assistant) coach Mitch (Hayes) would stay and work with me as long as two hours after practice. They really motivated me.”
Hayes was inserted into the No. 4 slot her freshman year, stepped up to No. 1 as a sophomore and stayed there the remainder of her career.
“She started out raw and rough around the edges,” Howard noted. “But she won with raw athleticism and picked up on things quickly. She was a beast of an athlete and, then, she started picking up tennis skills.”
Hayes was poised to emerge as league player of the year as a junior, but Nina Bohunska, a talented North Johnston High exchange student, intervened. She understood she was “set up” to garner the accolade as a senior. Considerable pressure was attached.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Hayes admitted, “but it’s really exciting. When we played tough matches, Coach Howard expected a lot out of me. I hate to let people down and I tried my best in all my (matches). I didn’t want to let my parents (Debra Batchelor and Scott Hayes, my teammates and especially Coach Howard down. I have been motivated by having good coaches that encouraged me and there’s nothing better than having 11-12 sisters (teammates). We always had a good time.”
Howard hailed Hayes’ tennis progression as “phenomenal.”
“It’s thrilling for me,” he continued. “I would like to think that, in order for her to get to where she got, she had fall in love with tennis and play it all the time. That’s what she did.
“She had never seen a tennis racquet or know anything about tennis until her freshman year. I didn’t know it was going to turn out like it did after four years.”
Hayes credits being determined, dedicated and being a go-getter.
“I am a go-getter,” she exclaimed. “I had a good season overall. I felt like I deserved it.”
Howard was proclaimed coach of the year. The recognition was his second in girls tennis and volleyball and his fifth in softball.
“As coach of the year, I’m excited and honored,” Howard said. “But it’s a reflection of the players. You get what you can out of them and, a lot of times, they make you look a lot smarter than you are.”
Howard mentioned his main focus with his 2018 team was to situate them in the right spots and instill confidence.
“And try to do it the right way,” he added. “I am a little more hard-nosed in softball. In girls tennis, I just want them to do their best and make it a sport they can enjoy.”