After being with the program for four years, Hinton will be saying goodbye after the 2019 campaign

When someone participates in the same activity for many years, it becomes a part of their lifestyle. In some cases, it is so ingrained in them that it is difficult to comprehend life without it. This is the case for senior tennis captain Kara Hinton.

Growing up in San Jose, Kara Hinton began playing tennis at the age of 10. A childhood friend introduced her to the sport, and she was quickly enamored with the game’s athleticism and strategy. Although she was committed to golf, her appreciation for tennis was something she couldn’t deny. She decided to switch gears and dedicate her time to tennis.

Hinton played club tennis in her hometown before high school, and she quickly experienced the psychological difficulties of an individually played sport. Several of her friends quit after experiencing difficulty in the sport, and Hinton began to understand the frustration behind losing matches.

“I think people don’t realize how hard tennis truly is,” Hinton said. “When you lose there is no one to blame but yourself, which can really mess up your game and can put you in a slump. But my parents taught me to never give up when doing anything I love, and I always kept that in my heart while playing.”

Entering high school, Hinton made tennis a top priority, and her play reflected that. At Valley Christian High School, she was the number one singles player all four years and won the MVP award each of those seasons. During her junior year, Hinton led the team to a Division VI state title, and her senior year she was named the Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

However, despite her success in high school, Hinton struggled in developing as an individual. Her mindset was completely absorbed around winning her matches, and she failed to develop a strong relationship with her teammates. As she prepared to leave high school, she made goals of progressing through the collegiate levels and learning how to avoid playing selfishly, playing for the team instead.

Hinton received a scholarship to play at APU in 2015, and after contemplation and prayer, she decided to join the Cougars. Although she had an incredible level of success throughout her tennis journey, she was nervous to enter a new atmosphere where she would inevitably need to prove her worth as a player. But Hinton took the challenge head-on, and what followed was an unbelievable appreciation for her teammates, as she became a part of their family.

“It’s always scary to move away from what you know, but I couldn’t be happier that I did. High school was a blast, especially when playing, but I never became what I wanted to be,” Hinton said. “I’m happy to say that APU and the program here taught me a lot about being a solid teammate which made tennis even more enjoyable.”

Along with this new perspective, Hinton’s skills on the court improved as well. During her freshman year, she played singles in the fifth spot on the team. The next year she advanced to the fourth spot, which she continued to play throughout her junior year. In those three years, Hinton finished with a record of 38-22 in singles competition.

The Cougars never had a losing season while she was on the team. During her junior year, the team earned their highest PacWest finish ever — third-place.

Entering her senior year, everyone on the team knew Hinton would be the leader of the squad. As of April 1, the Cougars have a strong 10-6 record, with four games left in the season.

The Cougars have had to endure a grueling schedule, with all 16 games being played in less than two months. The team has fought against a multitude of nagging injuries.

Hinton, who is battling a back injury of her own, has had to find the strength to continue battling for the team.  However, thanks to her previous seasons with the tennis program, she was fully prepared to conquer hardships and lead the Cougars to success.

“Her experience with this program makes her a perfect leader for this young team,” said assistant coach Kirby Ronning. “She’s experienced the hardships of playing through a long season, and she has certainly taught the girls how to adapt to that and use it to benefit their play and character.”

With her collegiate tennis career winding to a close, Hinton is feeling a mixture of sadness and joy. She is proud of what she has accomplished with the program, and she feels that she has improved the standards of APU women’s tennis. But she recognizes the nostalgia she will feel in just a few weeks.

“I’m going to miss APU and playing competitive tennis so much once I graduate,” Hinton said. “It’s been so unbelievable how I’ve grown as a person from this sport. And I couldn’t thank my teammates and coaches enough for that. But truly I give all the credit to my parents. They pushed me to continue fighting and playing, and I hope I made them proud.”

Along with competing, Hinton has developed amazing bonds and memories with her teammates over the past several years. Her teammates will remember Hinton’s ability to bring the best out of the team through her caring personality and approach.

“Kara is like the big sister of our squad,” said sophomore teammate Courtney Page. “You can watch her play and can be impressed by her skill, but for the team what made her so special was the bonds she created between all of us. She certainly learned a lot from being with the program, and I think she gave that knowledge to all of us.”

Although the team will miss their captain, Hinton and the entire program are excited about the future. Six of the nine players on the squad are underclassmen. The team also has impressive talent in April Wong, Anna Savchenko and nationally ranked Petra Ivankovic, among others. New leaders will step in, but Hinton’s leadership style will be missed

Graduating with a degree in journalism, Hinton hopes to be involved within the field of sports. In a male-dominated field, she will likely face hurdles along the way. However, using her writing and communication skills, along with her competitive spirit she garnered from tennis, Hinton is confident in her abilities as a content creator and knows she will succeed.

“I’ve always had a sense of confidence towards anything I do, and I am going to continue using that as I move along,” Hinton said. “Of course, there is a fear of the unknown and what it is going to bring. But APU has treated me so well, and I feel prepared to continue growing as a person.”