Kristina Zwolenik's journey to 2009 TIMES NEWS Tennis Player of the Year didn't begin at a country club and didn't include lessons and clinics from a very young age.

Zwolenik's four-year career at Tamaqua didn't feature instant stardom and great promise.

As a matter of fact, almost nothing about the early stages of Zwolenik's career is stereotypical of a "Player of the Year" especially a Tennis Player of the Year.

That's what makes the Tamaqua senior's story so unique.

"I guess I haven't had what most people would call a typical tennis career," said Zwolenik. "As a matter of fact, I hated tennis when I first started playing."

Zwolenik said her first introduction to the game was when she was about 7 or 8 years old. She attended a tennis camp and wasn't impressed.

"I didn't like it at all," she said. "I didn't even play the sport again until just before I entered high school."

By the time she decided to try out for the Tamaqua team as a freshman, Zwolenik realized she was way behind most of the other girls.

"I was just thrilled to make the team that year," Zwolenik said. "It's funny to think back to that time. During my freshman year, my goal was just to get the ball to the other side of the net."

Although she made the team as a freshman, Zwolenik never got into a varsity match. She played JV doubles that year.

She also started to fall in love with the sport.

"I had a great time playing my freshman year, but I wasn't happy with how I was playing," said Zwolenik. "I knew I needed to get better much better.

"So I decided I was going to start working hard on improving my game."

From that point on, Zwolenik said she started playing tennis nine-10 months a year, she got in better shape, and she eventually got a private coach.

"I really dedicated myself to becoming the best player I could," said Zwolenik. "I played in the offseason, I went to camps and I worked on my strength and conditioning at the gym."

While the improvement in her game was evident, there was no overnight leap from the JVs to being a varsity star.

Instead, Zwolenik gradually worked her way up the Raiders' line-up.

"My goal for sophomore year was to make the varsity," she said. "I accomplished that and played at #2 doubles the entire season."

Zwolenik played for veteran coach Jean Freed her freshman year. After Freed stepped down, Dan Watts was named the new Raider coach. Zwolenik played for Watts the next two years and he eventually became her personal coach.

Zwolenik played #2 singles as a junior and qualified for the District 11 tournament in both singles and doubles.

"Dan [Watts] helped me realize that there was more to the game than just hitting the ball back and forth over the net," said Zwolenik. "We worked on seeing the court, setting up shots, and having a strategy

"The help I got from him, plus a lot of hard work that I was putting in, really improved my game."

That improvement was obvious this past season.

Zwolenik achieved her goal of playing in the No. 1 singles slot for the Raiders.

Under new coach Jennel Yelito, Zwolenik's third coach in four seasons, she posted an 11-4 regular season record and once again played in the District 11 singles and doubles tournaments.

"I never expected to have 11 wins playing at No. 1 singles," said Zwolenik. "Especially the way I started the season."

Zwolenik was referring to 0-2 start that had her second-guessing herself early in the year.

"I called Dan [Watts] because I was so disappointed in how my season had started," said Zwolenik. "But he told me to shake it off and keep my confidence level up. He also told me not to lower my expectations and that things would turn around."

That's exactly what happened for Zwolenik.

The 2009 season turned out to be a microcosm of her career a slow start, but a tremendous finish.

Now, the girl who at one time hated the sport, can't get enough of it.

"I definitely want to play in college," she said. "I haven't decided on a school yet, but my plan is to major in occupational therapy and also play tennis.

"Eventually I would love to be a tennis coach or instructor somewhere."

It appears that Zwolenik's tennis journey isn't over yet.