Sydney Hrehor’s high school tennis career hasn’t exactly been what it could have or perhaps should have been given her talent, and the reasons have been largely beyond her control.
Yet despite losing the better part of two seasons in that career due to a skeletal condition that required two surgeries over a two-year period, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Providence Christian senior made her mark in a big way for her senior campaign in 2022.
After being named second-team All-County during her freshman season, Hrehor capped her career by going 16-1 as the Storm’s No. 1 singles player this spring.
Yet the way the 2022 Daily Post Girls Player of the Year sees it, the biggest accomplishment over the past four years has less to do with her performance on the court and more to do with her performance as a teammate.
“From high school, I think my biggest accomplishment was getting used to a team and being more extroverted and being able to cheer on my team more,” Hrehor said. “Being in a tournament isn’t like that. It’s every person for themselves. Everybody’s your enemy when you’re out there.
“In high school tennis, you get to cheer on your team. You get to have a lot of fun and you’re all basically working towards the same goal, which is super cool. I think my experience was super good overall.”
Her experience also proved to be valuable for the entire Providence team, a development one of her coaches at Providence, Chris Palmer, said he was fortunate to observe.
“I’ve known her for some years, but this was my first year (at Providence), and it’s been a good eight years since I’d really seen her compete,” Palmer said. “So for me to have her as a senior and for her to come back after everything she’s been through (was amazing). She’s just a very mature girl.
“She was very focused. She was just like, ‘This is what needs to be done’ in every match that she played. She’s just a competitor. She just likes to compete and is very focused on what she wanted. It was just a joy to have her (on the team). She was a great example to the girls on the team.”
That Hrehor was able to have the success she did on the court this spring was quite remarkable given the fact that she played only sparingly after her sensational freshman season in 2019.
After being diagnosed with pectus excavatum — a congenital chest wall deformity that is caused by growth abnormality of the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum, which causes a depression of the sternum and gives the chest has a “sunken in” or “funnel chest” appearance — early in her sophomore year of school in 2019-20, Hrehor underwent surgery to insert concave steel bars in her sternum to correct the problem.
It took a while for her return to her tennis schedule, and it was more than just the physical recovery that she had to deal with get back into form.
“It was super hard at first,” Hrehor recalled. “It was more like a mental thing, I think. I knew the start of summer before my sophomore year (that) I was going to have to have surgery, and I was going to be out for three or four months. That was hard for me because junior and senior year are really big in college recruiting. So that was super stressful.
“Then after surgery, it was super painful. We stayed Arizona for two weeks just recovering. I had a partially-collapsed lung. That was super painful. So when we flew home, I had to go back to school, (but) I had to miss my first week, and it was really hard to catch up. I couldn’t even carry my backpack at school because it was too much weight. My Dad would have to come in and take my stuff.
“As soon as I came back to tennis, I came back in November, (and) I started training, I started getting better. I thought I was at a place where I was as good as I was before surgery. That was probably (the next) April or late March. I was signed up for my first tournament (back), and the tournament got cancelled because COVID hit.”
Indeed, the timing of the pandemic that shut down all Georgia High School Association in the spring of 2020 couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hrehor, who was just working her way back into the form she showed during her freshman year and beyond (she went 9-1 as a sophomore when the season was stopped).
And with the pandemic continuing even as GHSA athletics returned during the 2020-21 school year, Hrehor took another year off from high school and tournament tennis while attending South Forsyth High School on a hybrid online schedule as a junior.
The uncertainty of how she would react in on-court competition was something that stayed in the back of her mind even as she returned to tournament competition last summer.
“That was super stressful because I didn’t play a tournament for over a year,” Hrehor said. “It was really hard for me to get back and get past the mental block where before my surgery, I was out there and I couldn’t breathe to where I’m like, ‘You’re fine. You may be out of breath, but that’s normal.’ It was like, ‘Is this like an out of breath to where the surgery didn’t work or where I’m at a normal place?’ But I’ve gotten so much better.”
True, despite the longer than expected break, Hrehor demonstrated just how much better she had gotten physically after returning to Providence the previous fall by dominating most of her opponents and dropping only a third-set tie-breaker to Holy Innocents’ star junior Sydney Bly.
But then, another case of bad timing surrounding her condition arose just as the Storm were getting ready to enter play in the Region 5-A Private Tournament in April.
And with graduation from high school in May and reporting to Mississippi State University, where she has signed to play college tennis, late in the summer, Hrehor was left with a difficult choice to make.
“It’s basically three years after your bars (are put) in that (surgeons) have to take them out,” Hrehor said. “So this was the best time for them to do it. They could either do it in April or it would have to wait for July. And of course, they didn’t know how I was going to recover, and I’m supposed to start college the second week of August.
“So I was like, ‘We have to do it in April,’ but I didn’t want to let down my team, obviously. So it was a really hard decision for me. It was definitely hard for me the week before (the region tournament) because … I knew it wasn’t going to be as painful as the first surgery, but you never know. There are always complications that can happen. And I knew how hard the first one was to come back from. I was just super nervous about it. I didn’t want to have to go through the same thing again. I didn’t want another setback right before I go to college.”
Fortunately, there were no setbacks, but Hrehor was still unable to participate in the region tournament.
However, she was able to help her Providence teammates as best she could, and she now looks forward to what she hopes to be a college career with just as much success on the court, but less drama surrounding it.
“During region (tournament), I wasn’t supposed to be playing matches, but I warmed up my team and would help coach them,” Hrehor said. “But I wasn’t supposed to be playing full matches, which is hard for me. I feel like I could if I needed to, but I can’t go against what (the doctors) said.
“I’ll probably be more on a doubles line than a singles line (at Mississippi State) because they have a lot of transfers coming in, and a girl from Canada, who’s going to be my roommate. I definitely agree that redshirting could be good just so I can get used to the pace and environment (of college tennis) and get used to training (with the team).”