Sports Stories

The Verde Valley is home to many fine high school athletes, but two tennis players take the cake.

tennisfeatureCornville resident and 17-year-old Mingus Union High School tennis star Alexander Lineberry and 18-year-old Sedona resident and Verde Valley School tennis star Cassie Kovac have taken a big leap forward, perhaps bigger than most high school seniors.

They both accepted college scholarships to purse their higher education goals and have a chance to play the sport they’ve loved for so long.

The pair, bonded only by their favorite sport, are going to two prestigious and difficult universities any high school student can apply to, where 85 percent of applicants are turned away.

Lineberry has accepted his nomination to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Kovac recently accepted her invitation to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., this fall.

Both will be on full scholarship and get to play tennis for their respective schools.

A four-year education at USAFA is estimated at a value of $414,000. A USNA four-year education is worth about $250,000. And it’s all paid for, 100 percent.

Despite the difficulty of being accepted into one of these fine schools, their tennis abilities on the court are what got them over the top, earning them free rides to two of the top universities in the country.

Both had to accomplish a rigorous application period, including obtaining congressional nomination from either U.S. Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] or Senators John McCain [R] or Jon Kyl [R].

They were required to go through extensive medical examinations and physical tests and had to complete their SAT testing with scores of at least 600 in both math and verbal – and be in the top 18 percent of their class.

Talk about tough.

After Kovac beat her Flagstaff opponent in a match March 10, she and Lineberry sat down in the clubhouse at Poco Diablo Resort, taking shelter from the cold, rainy day and to discuss their exciting upcoming futures.

When asked how she decided the USNA was something to be interested in, Kovac had some interesting things to say.

“I decided last year, when I went to a prospect showcase and the coach at the Naval Academy coached me. They started an NCAA Division I tennis program there recently, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Kovac said.

Kovac hopes to be a pediatrician one day, and with her rigorous scheduling and study habits formed by VVS, the USNA is a good fit for her.

“I know it’s going to be difficult there, but I talked to a few of the students that attend and it seems it will be something I can handle. My life is very structured here already with school, homework and tennis,” Kovac said.

As for Lineberry, the young tennis player wants to fly and become a USAF Pararescue jumper before it’s all said and done.

“Initially I wanted to join or go to the Army or Navy, but when the Air Force Academy coaches expressed their interest, I thought it was something I’d enjoy,” Lineberry said.

These two epitomize the phrase “student-athlete” and will look to use tennis to get where they want to go in life.

Talking to Lineberry, he doesn’t plan on playing tennis except for fun after college.

“Tennis has opened the door for me, and when I’m ready to hang up my racquet, it will be OK,” Lineberry said. “Tennis will be fun. It’s not life or death. I want to stay in the top six the Air Force team, and after I’m done, I won’t pursue it.”

As for Kovac, she plans to use tennis as an escape from the daily rigors of being at USNA.

“I think tennis will be more of an escape for me there. I love to play tennis, but I have bigger plans,” Kovac said.

For now, these two will finish out their senior seasons and graduate in May. In the future, look for them to become something more than just kids who play tennis.