During Kyle Hicken's first season of playing varsity tennis during his sophomore year, Chartiers Valley coach Diane Daeschner said he was a "pickleball player" on the tennis court.
But over the past three seasons, he's turned into the Colts top player and a WPIAL qualifier. But he learned a lot of his game by playing "pickleball," a racket sport in which two to four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a polymer perforated ball over a net.
Hicken qualified for the WPIAL tournament for the second consecutive season by finishing second in the Class AAA Section 5 tournament earlier this month.
"[Pickleball] helps out his net game," Daeschner said. "Pickleball has a smaller court and you're working at the net a lot and it translates to the tennis court."
Heading into this sophomore year, Hicken was playing soccer and swimming for the Colts, and also was a very good pickleball player.
Chartiers Valley puts on a huge school-wide pickleball tournament each year, and Hicken finished second in the singles tournament in 10th grade. The player he lost to in the finals was senior Nadim El-Jaroudi, who happened to be the Colts' No. 1 tennis player.
El-Jaroudi convinced Hicken to come out for the tennis team in the spring.
"I loved it, but I wasn't very good at first," said Hicken, who lives in Scott Township.
But he put the work in on the tennis court to get better, despite his busy extracurricular schedule. Hicken isn't the only soccer player on the Colts tennis squad, and Hicken often hits with some of the others -- Calvin Boyle, Josh Rosato and Nick Calla -- outside of practice.
It isn't a coincidence the Colts have so many soccer players on their roster, either.
"I always try to recruit soccer players," Daeschner said. "They have the natural footwork for tennis. Kyle gets to shots that I never would think he'd be able to get to on the court."
Hicken's tennis game also benefits from his swimming, which keeps him in great shape, and his pickleball.
After losing his sophomore year in the pickleball championship match, Hicken has come back the past two years and won both the singles and doubles championships. Daeschner said this year's tournament had 100 players in the doubles tournament and 45 in the singles tournament.
"It's pretty intense," Hicken said. "I really get into it."
Pickleball closely resembles tennis. In pickleball, there is a smaller court and players volley the ball back and forth over a net using a paddle and a wiffle ball.
But Hicken is no longer just a pickleball player. He will play tennis and possibly soccer at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio, next season.
"Now he's turned into a fine tennis player," Daeschner said. "As a sophomore, he didn't have any shots. He just pushed the ball over the net like in pickleball. But now he's a tennis player."