Kayla Harger competes in state tennis tournament

Kayla Harger backhands the ball into play.

Henry County High School senior Kayla Harger competed in the girls’ singles division of the KHSAA state tennis tournament at Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington on May 31.

Harger advanced to the second round of the state tournament last year as a junior before being knocked out by Claire Pinkston of Woodford County. Her prior state tournament experience worked in her favor during this year’s competition.

“I’m definitely not as nervous. I have nothing to prove this time. I’ve already came last year so it’s all about having fun so a lot of the pressure’s off,” said Harger.

Harger battled to win her first-round matchup against Kacie Ray of Meade County before falling in the second round to No. 1 Sakurako Watanabe of the Covington Latin School.

Harger, a Centre tennis commit, led for most of the first set of the opening match, coming out on top 6-3. The second set, however, was an uphill battle. Ray held the lead for most of the set and had a 6-5 edge before Harger rallied to tie it at 6-6. In the tiebreaker set, Ray was ahead 6-4, needing just one more point to take the set, but Harger rattled off four straight points to take the set, 7-6 (6) and the match.

“Yeah, it (the second set) was a really tough one. I had to make sure I wasn’t in my head during that tiebreaker. I was really nervous, but it was good. It was a good first match, good to get everything out of the way,” said Harger.

When the nerves kicked in during the tiebreaker, Harger remembered advice from a coach to keep her grounded.

“One of my coaches always tells me to go back to the basics whenever I’m really nervous, just keep doing the things I know I know how to do so that I can keep the points going and figure out a way to win. So that’s kind of what I tried to stick to,” said Harger.

Heading into her second-round matchup against Watanabe, the top seed in the tournament, Harger said the match would be an underdog situation and she wasn’t expecting anything “crazy” to happen.

Harger managed to capture one game of the first set, but that would be her only one of the day. Watanabe’s aggression behind the service line kept Harger from establishing a rhythm on the return line, and Harger struggled to put her serve into play late in the match. Watanabe won 6-1 and 6-0, ending Harger’s season.

Harger described the loss as a “tough match,” but her goal going in was to learn something and enjoying playing while she had the chance.