Former Brainerd High School tennis star Sara Wennerstrand is back on the courts.
After a four-year, record-breaking softball career at the College of St. Benedict, the 2014 Brainerd Athlete of the Year is playing tennis for the College of St. Scholastica Bennies while pursuing graduate studies in occupational therapy.
In high school, Wennerstrand was a three-time state participant in tennis while also excelling in softball and earned MVP honors her senior year as goalie on the Warrior girls hockey team.
When she decided to attend St. Benedict's, she had to decide whether to play tennis or softball, both sports she enjoyed.
She chose softball and set new school records for single season and career RBIs, games played and games started. After catching for most of her freshman and sophomore years, she switched to shortstop for the final two seasons. She was twice named First Team All-Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and two times honorable mention.
"Those (softball experiences) are definitely some of my greatest memories of those four years," Wennerstrand said. "I gained so many friends and experiences through the sport of softball. It was like a big family away from home."
Moving back into competitive tennis this year started a little slow for Wennerstrand who has won six of her last eight matches at No. 1 singles after a 1-3 start. In doubles play, she is 5-6, but has won her last four matches.
"Going from high school to college softball I was ready right away," she said. "But with tennis, I hadn't really played competitively for the last four years so that was definitely a transition.
"In the summers, I helped (Brainerd head coach) Lisa Salo who heads up the summer program so that kept me on the courts and that helped the transition go more smoothly, but it definitely was still a transition after being out of competitive tennis.
"There was definitely a little rust there at the start. My strokes were there, but I needed to fine tune everything. I definitely feel the more I play now the better it is getting."
One new aspect of tennis that Wennerstrand is experiencing at the collegiate level is that she can play both singles and doubles in the same match, both of which she enjoys.
"It's different than high school where you play just one position," she said. "In college, the doubles usually go out first and play a single, eight-game pro set. Then those six players can also play singles or someone else who didn't play doubles can also play singles. So you can play one or the other, or play both if your coach wants to do that."
In doubles play, Wennerstrand started the season 0-4 teamed with senior Elise Hauer, a two-time state participant from Duluth East.
"I never played her in high school, but probably played against her in some 14U and 16U tournaments," Wennerstrand said. "It was kind of nice getting to know her as a teammate rather than a competitor."
In her last seven matches, Wennerstrand has been paired with Katelyn Rice, a senior from Eveleth-Gilbert, a three-time Class 1A state participant who finished third in 2013 and fourth in 2015. They are 5-2 and have won their last four matches.
"She's really fun to play with" Wennerstrand said. "She's actually in the same occupational therapy program I'm involved in and we've become pretty good friends, especially now through tennis. She did a three-year track and graduated early so she's technically the age of a senior, but she's in grad school with me."
Wennerstrand started in the No. 2 position for her first two singles matches (1-1) before moving to No. 1 for her last 10 where she is 6-4.
Wennerstrand credits playing sports with giving her the ability to juggle the hectic schedule of grad school classes, homework, clinicals and playing sports.
"Playing sports all the way through high school and college has taught me about time management," Wennerstrand said. "Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but I think I do a pretty good job of getting done the things I have to do first before doing fun things.
"Also, our tennis practices are usually in the mornings at 6:30 or 7 a.m. so that may affect my sleep, but it gives me the rest of the day to go to school and work on homework. It's challenging sometimes, but isn't anything that I can't handle.
"I'm just blessed that I have the opportunity to play a sport again because sports have been such a big part of my life. It's fun to be able to do what I love and continue to do so."