Tess Herder: The Story Behind a Local Tennis Talent

State Qualifier 2010, 2011 (2nd at state 2011) | All District Champion 2010, 2011 | All Metro Honorable Mention 2010, 2011 | 1st Team All-Conference 2010, 2011 | Ranked in Top 25 Girls Missouri Valley 5-State Region (out of 400) | USTA Futures Tournament Winner June 2010 | Missouri Valley Sweet 16 2010 (For the region’s top 16 players)

Article Kendra Mathewson | Photography Tammy Pence

Tess Herder likes to work hard.

A look at her tennis accomplishments might give the impression she is just naturally gifted. Tess is one of the top 10 girls playing tennis in the region, and a top 100 contender nationally, says her individual coach Eric Rand, who has coached nearly 40 Missouri Valley and eight National champions. As only a sophomore at Lee’s Summit High School, she took second place at state last fall. Tess is one of a handful of girls in the area competing at a national level this summer.

But success didn’t come right away. She didn’t do well her first year and was disappointed in herself. With the heart of a champion, she didn’t get discouraged. Instead, she went to work harder. And with the guidance and support of great coaches and team mates, it’s paying off. Behind her current feats is passion for diligence and excellence. “I love working hard in general, using the talent God gave me,” she says. “When I have done my best I feel peace inside, a deep satisfaction.”

She says some of the gifts God has given her include natural perseverance and mental toughness necessary to overcome physical and mental barriers entailed at this level of mastery. Barriers such as the pressure she encountered at a recent high level tournament where she played up a division against two and three seeds, only losing to the first seed in a tie breaker. “I remember when she was a little girl no taller than the net,” says her mom, Shari Herder. “It has been amazing to watch her grow into someone who can handle that kind of pressure.”

Tess’ hard work includes grueling daily workouts, a cumulative weekly court time of 10-15 hours. Add to that the hours of off-court activities designed to strengthen her game, not to mention school work. Practice consists of hitting repetitions, live ball drills, match play, serving and returning.

During the summer she will train four hours daily, and next year with the help of school administrators she will leave school early to focus on training. “Tess has worked extremely hard, spending a lot of time on the court, doing more reps to get where she’s at. She one of top two people in our program doing off-court work like cross training, additional matches, working out and other extras outside the standard tennis training program,” says Rand. Tess says that’s what she does during her free time.

Despite her major accomplishments, Tess is not focused on them. She is absorbed in the present moment, working on the current skill challenge and the next match.

She started in gymnastics, but loved the outdoors so decided she needed to find a different sport. At age 8, she participated in a Lee’s Summit High School summer camp with Chuck Harrelson. That summer she was coached by William Zhong.

“She fell in love with it and has been on the tennis court ever since,” says Shari. Tess would play every day for hours and hours, sometimes just hitting balls back and for the with the coach’s son. She took lessons at Hilltop with Jason Johnson. At age 12, her goals led to Kansas City United Tennis (KCUT) tennis academy on the Plaza where she has been ever since.

KCUT is an elite tennis college preparatory program for all levels from pee wee to 18. Their goal is to help kids achieve their college level goals in a fun, hardworking environment built on team aspect of play. This is the place many people come from all over the region to pursue high level tennis beyond high school.

“I could not develop my skills alone,” recognizes Tess. “My coaches and teammates have been instrumental in my growth and success.” These include Rand and Elliott McDermed at KCUT and Jamie Voelker at LSHS.

She also gives credit to God, thanking him after every game. “He is with me as I play,” Tess says. “I ask him questions; He guides me the whole way.”

Tess displays the qualities of a great athlete described by the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Champions of Character. She demonstrates a quiet inner confidence based on her preparation, daily work habits and constant progress. She subjects herself to tough challenges and practices and sees the value in hard work, and as a result has a deep belief in her ability. She is unafraid of failure and maintains confidence even in stress and difficulty.

She loves a challenge, especially when an opponent makes her fight for every point.

“Tess is a great kid, a delight to work with. She is on a great path to success,” says Rand. Tess’ goals include attaining a tennis scholarship to a Division 1 school, winning a super tourney and playing more national tournaments. While she also enjoys fishing, hiking and hanging out with friends, she sacrifices time doing those things in order to be on the tennis court. The Herder family also sacrifices in order to support Tess. Her father, Randy, and brother, Brett, are happy to do so and celebrate her achievements.

Albert Einstein said, “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Likewise, Tess devotes herself wholeheartedly to being all God created her to be. When you see her name in the news, you can guarantee that regardless of what happens with her tennis career, Tess is hard at work.