After three appearances in state tournaments and 140 wins during her high school career, Shanna Kinny knew she wanted to continue playing tennis after graduating from Litchfield High School.
She didn’t have to go far to find a place to do this.
Kinny is in her second season on the St. Cloud State University women’s tennis team, where she plays both singles and doubles – and experiences the difference in skill level. between high school tennis and Division II college tennis.
“It really surprised me,” Kinny said of the level of talent in the college game. “It’s super competitive. It’s much more difficult than high school. It helped me improve my game for sure.
Kinny has played the second, third and fourth singles and first and second doubles this year for a Huskies team that is 5-8 overall and 3-7 at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Kinny’s record so far this season is 7-6 in singles and 5-8 in doubles.
The 2019 LHS graduate enjoyed her greatest playoff success as a high school doubles player, pairing with Laney Huhner in 2015 and Avery Stilwell in 2017 and 2018 to advance to the state tournament. As freshmen, Kinny and Huhner teamed up to win the Class A doubles consolation title. After missing an appearance in a state tournament in 2016, Kinny teamed up with fellow Dragons tennis phenomenon Avery Stilwell to finish third in the state in 2017 and again in 2018 to take second place.
The success she enjoyed during her high school career – and the friendships she built through tennis – convinced Kinny that she wanted to continue playing competitively somewhere, if she could.
“My experience in high school was super fun,” Kinny said. “Without my good high school experience, I would never have played college tennis. I really loved playing both singles and doubles (throughout high school), and in college you can play both, so that seemed like a good situation for me.
Kinny visited a handful of colleges as she weighed her next step, academically and athletically. The proximity to St. Cloud State University made him an immediate precursor, and his community health program matched his professional interests.
Litchfield High School coach Matt Draeger helped connect Kinny with SCSU head coach Berit Merrill, who was entering his first season in 2019. In no time, Kinny’s decision was made.
And that seems to have been the right one for reasons far beyond the tennis court – although, like the strings of a racquet, his academic and social contentment is closely tied to the game.
“When you first get to campus, playing tennis helps you make friends right away,” Kinny said. “I have met some of my best friends on the tennis team.”
These friendships have grown stronger as the team has traveled to compete in Minnesota and the Dakotas over the past two seasons. Long van trips, hotel stays, and dining out are some of the college tennis experience Kinny says she enjoys.
Of course, there’s competition too, and Kinny has learned a lot – and improved a lot, she says – through training and games. One of the things she’s worked on the most is becoming a more aggressive player.
That’s no small adjustment for a player who has spent much of her high school career on the baseline, exhausting her opponents with consistent groundstrokes. Kinny has perfected this game since she started playing tennis, she believes it was in second grade. Throughout middle and high school, in addition to practices with the LHS team, Kinny took private lessons to improve.
Now, however, his college coaches want to see Kinny play against his opponent more often. It’s a strategy she’s fine with, although she isn’t always comfortable in the role.
“I’m starting to play a more aggressive game,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to improve. I come to the net more often, I take bigger shots. My coaches have helped me grow this way. They showed me how I can take bigger shots and get it done.
“I just have to focus on my place and not play passively, not play defensively,” she added. “It’s out of my comfort zone to play this way, but I can do it. Some things I have improved quite a bit and hope to improve even more in the next couple of years.