Kathryn Hunnicutt's mind was spinning as fast as a ball from one of her wicked serves.

The difference was the ball eventually came to a rest.

The pressure Hunnicutt felt never did.

If the Desert Vista senior wasn't practicing, then her mind kept telling her she should. If she wasn't playing to her expectations, even if she just beat a quality opponent, then she'd beat herself up mentally.

So Hunnicutt stopped. Call it "burnout" from tennis or just needing a break. Whatever it was, it had to happen.

"The stress and pressure got to be too much," said Hunnicutt, who was ranked in the USTA Southwest circuit. "I started when I was 8 and it eventually became all I did. I just played tennis all the time after school and on the weekends, but I thought about it even more. Did I do enough today?"

Even though she stopped playing, Hunnicutt didn't stray too far from the game. She hung out with her Thunder teammates before matches last season. Talked to Desert Vista coach Angel Singer, but she never wavered on her decision.

"She was there enjoying herself around tennis for the first time in a long time," Singer said. "She wasn't playing but Kat was cheering on her friends."

It - the fun, not the competition - was enough to bring Hunnicutt back this season. She made an impression by finishing third last weekend at the Kiwanis losing only to Phoenix Xavier freshman Maggie Cohen, the eventual champion.

"I had coaches coming up to me and saying, ‘It looks like Kat Hunnicutt is back,'" Singer said. "It was a tough match (said of the loss to Cohen) and the second set was one of the most incredible matches. Every shot was tough, back and forth and well-placed.

"It was a great confidence booster for her and she is working her way back."

Hunnicutt has been playing as the Thunder's No. 2 behind Justine Quaggan, but after last weekend's performance that might be changing.

"There was some rust and we had to do some mixing and matching to get her competition," Singer said. "She is getting better every day and we have had to place her with the number one and two boys in practice."

While Singer has enjoyed seeing Hunnicutt back on the court, what has thrilled her more has been the attitude and willingness to help.

"It's night and day," she said of Hunnicutt's approach. "She is still hard on herself and the competitive fire is still there, but the expectations have left and she is freely playing tennis. She is calm, she is laughing and it is fun watching her."

Hunnicutt has also been a good mentor for the younger players, according to Singer.

"Before she would have been more concerned with her game to help out," the coach said. "It's been a total 180."

Whether it is singles, doubles or taking a moment with a younger player, all of it has been a refreshing change to the grind it was in years past.

"It is my senior year and I couldn't go without playing again," said Hunnicutt, who has been accepted to Arizona's Honors College, where she plans to study pre-law. "I wanted to get back out here and play again. I was surprised how easy it came back.

"I still have that competitive streak, and now I know I can play at that same level without worrying about rankings or what happens if I don't play at the level I want to. When I am done playing it doesn't stick with me for hours."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com


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