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Difference Maker
McKenzy Harden just completed her sophomore season with the Cal State Stanislaus women's tennis team.

"I've improved a lot from last year," the 2010 Ceres High graduate said. "My skills, strategy and fitness. I've become more mentally tough. Being consistent is the key."

Harden compiled a 7-7 record in the Warriors' No. 5 singles slot. She finished 4-14 her first season.

McKenzy had a combined record of 8-6 while teaming up with Heather Cotter and Jessica Stokes in No. 3 doubles. Harden went 12-9 as a freshman. She had four different partners, including Verena Preikschas, Lindsey West, Lexy Harrington and Vanesa Reibstein.

McKenzy admitted the transition from high school to college was tough. "It was a big challenge because you're playing against better players," said Harden, who won 161 of 170 matches (97 straight in league), claimed three consecutive singles titles and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs four times during her record-breaking career with the Bulldogs. "They're mentally tougher and have more experience. It was hard but it was fun."

McKenzy enjoyed playing doubles more than singles.

"It's a good change from what I'm used to," she said.

Harden helped lead the Warriors to a 9-4 overall record and 33rd place in the NCAA Division II Women's Tennis Rankings.

Stanislaus just missed securing a berth to the West Regional Preliminary Round. The Warriors ranked No. 6. The top three teams advanced.

"We had a really good team," Harden said. "We wanted to go to Regionals so bad. We were so close. I'm definitely looking forward to my junior year. I need to make sure I improve on everything. I'll be ready to compete."

Stanislaus loses four starters to graduation, including Cotter, Preikschas, West and Katie Eng.

Harden will provide veteran leadership next season.

"It's going to be very difficult," Harden said. "I'll step up when I need to."

McKenzy will continue to perform in the classroom as well. "I'm a student first," said Harden, a nursing major, who carried 18 units last semester. "I'm proud of that."

A standout in high school, McKenzy couldn't pass up the opportunity to continue her tennis career at nearby Stanislaus. Family and friends don't have to travel far to watch her compete.

"The more matches you play, the better you get," Harden said. "It's been a good ride so far. I picked a sport I'll always be able to play no matter what."