Tennis wasn’t Hayden Cissna’s first sport of choice.
The Hermiston High School senior spent most of his childhood playing in youth basketball programs. He also played football for grid kids and Armand Larive Middle School. It wasn’t until he was in eighth grade that he first picked up a racket.
But on Thursday, Cissna officially signed his letter of intent to play with the Treasure Valley Community College Chukars and take his career on the tennis court to the next level.
He said he chose the Chukars because not only is the Ontario campus close to home, but it also offers on-site housing. And more importantly, it was his future team, coached by Mike Heleker, that drew him in.
“I got to meet the coach and some of the team,” said Cissna, 17. “They were super nice and they were all great players. You could just see the support they have for each other.”
It also helped that his tennis skills have earned him grants that will cover five of his six terms at Treasure Valley.
“He had an interest in going to the next level, and we both knew there weren’t a lot of options for tennis in the area,” said Bulldogs head tennis coach Shann West. “We were able to reach out to (Heleker) and go down there for a visit, and it wasn’t too long after that he got an offer.”
Cissna said he didn’t shift his focus to tennis until his junior year. Although he doesn’t have the years of experience with a racket that he does on the basketball court or the football field, he’s put in the hours to make up for it.
“I just put in the hours,” he said. “It was the only sport where I was seeing the satisfaction of that work. It puts everything on yourself, which makes it more personal. My teammates have encouraged me so much. We’ve built such a strong relationship together.”
Cissna has been on the Bulldogs’ varsity team for all four years of his high school career. This year, he was the team’s No. 1 singles player. West said nothing has come between Cissna and improving his game, even if he has to do it alone.
“He’ll be out there on the courts by himself doing anything he can do put in the effort, trying to get better,” West said. “Over the past four years, he’s put in countless hours. He’ll be practicing with the ball machine until 11 p.m.”
After his time as a Chukar, Cissna will set his sights on the University of Montana in Missoula, where he’ll pursue a degree in wildlife biology. He also hopes to be a walk-on for their tennis team.
“His name’s Cissna, but we call him Cissy,” said West. “Because of the relationship we’ve sparked up over the years, I’m really happy to be the guy who has helped him pursue and achieve his goals. It’s awesome.”