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Lakeland, All-Polk County Girls Tennis Team and Player of the Year

LAKELAND — Nyer Kerr remembers the first time she picked up a tennis racket when she was seven years old. Her family, she said, grew up playing tennis.

“I always had fun because I always grew up with friends playing tennis,” Kerr said. “So when you’re little and have friends to play with, it’s always great and a lot of fun.”

Tennis couldn’t have been more fun for her last spring. Kerr moved with her family from Tampa to Lakeland, and she enrolled at Santa Fe Catholic. Kerr, a junior playing tennis for the first time in high school, didn’t know much about the competition. However, by the time the season was over, her opponents certainly knew about her.

Regional tennis: Jenkins and Auburndale boys, Bartow girls heading to the FHSAA state tennis tournament

State tennis: Freshman Vasconez leads Bartow girls to regional tennis final; 3 Polk boys teams advance

Kerr defeated all her opponents, won the district title at No. 1 singles to qualify for the state tournament, and did not lose the second round at state.

Kerr is The Ledger’s 2024 Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

When last season ended, Auburndale two-sport star McKenna Battilla was looking to continue her dominance in the county and perhaps go further at the state tournament in her sophomore season. However, Battilla suffered a knee injury during the football play-offs, which wiped out her tennis season, leaving a void at the top of the province.

Kerr has more than filled that void. She has been playing competitive tennis since she was 10 and quickly found a home her freshman year at Santa Fe Catholic.

“It was definitely a different change here,” Kerr said. “It’s more homely than city life. So it felt like a big change. But I really like it here. It’s really fun.”

Kerr set the tone that she was the player to beat in the province when she started beating the other top players in the province, players who went on to make the first team. She defeated Hannah Windham of Frostproof 6-3, 6-2, rallied to beat Sophie Boss of Winter Haven 5-7, 6-0, 10-5, and top returning player, McKeel’s Jada Hutto, with 6-0, 6-1.

After an 8-0 regular season, she became West County champions. Because rain postponed the general provincial finals by a day, many matches were canceled, including the No. 1 singles final that would have been a Kerr-Windham rematch, due to proms.

“I found it quite challenging,” Kerr said of her season. “I had a lot of good opponents and everyone was good. So I thought it was fun.”

Junior tennis is all about the individual, but it was the team aspect of high school tennis that she came to enjoy.

“I think the team was a lot more fun,” Kerr said. “That’s why I want to play college tennis – to be on a team. So I really enjoyed it because your teammates are on the side cheering you on or after a match you go up to them and have fun. So it’s fun.”

Kerr, whose strength is a strong base game, said her biggest improvement this year is the mental part of the game. She wants to improve her service in the future.

Kerr closed her season at the state tournament where she defeated Bradenton Christian’s Nathalie Buky 6-1, 6-0 before losing to Holy Trinity’s Aleksandriya Dzheneva 6-3, 6-1.

“I could have done better,” she said. “I think I beat myself.”

It was her first time competing in the state tournament. Although she has played in major junior tournaments, she admitted it was a little intimidating, “but it was definitely a lot of fun.”

Kerr is looking forward to her senior season. If Battilla, a junior, returns, it will be the first time in recent memory that two former Players of the Year will face off in the same season. After that, she wants to play college tennis.

2024 All-Polk County Girls Tennis Team

Player of the Year

Nyer Kerr

Santa Fe Catholic, junior

Kerr emerged as the best player in the county. Her only loss of the season came at the state tournament, when she defeated all the other top players in the county. She won the district title at No. 1 singles, earning her first bid to the state tournament.

Coach of the Year

Lindsay Hanger

Bartów

Hanger guided the Yellow Jackets to their best season in years. They won their first district title since 2017 when they finished regional runner-up and qualified as a team for the state tournament.

First team

Montserreatt Vasconez

Bartow, freshman

Went 12-2 during the regular season and became district champions.

Jada Hutto

McKeel, Junior

Went 10-2 in the regular season and finished second in West County.

Hannah Windham

Frost resistant, first year

Only lost once during the regular season.

Sophie Bose

Freshman, Winterhaven

Went 9-2 during the regular season.

Honorable mention

All Saints: Julianna Booker, Peyton LeFrancois, Lily Hyman, Nandini Gali.

Chestnut brown: Camila Guilarte.

Bartow: Bhavya Pinapala, Elizabeth Matteson, Madison Fedler, Adelen McLean.

Fort Meade: Maria Daunt Bellio.

Frost resistant: Abigail Windham.

George Jenkins: Julia Davila.

Lake area: Brooke Williams, Carolyn Nickerson.

Lakeland: Hope Hallok.

Lakeland Christian: Ansley Houghton.

McKeel: Bailey Davis, Ciara Smith, Leia Johnson, Ashley Opderbeck.

Ridge Community: Tyja Jones.

Santa Fe Catholic: Copeland Collany.

Winter paradise: Presley Odom.

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