Exchange students finding temporary anchorage within a local program is not an uncommon occurrence. However, what is extraordinary is when that individual alters the Shore Conference landscape during their short-term asylum, as was the case with Freehold’s Michaela Hlavata.
Hlavata, a Czech-born junior and nationally ranked player who entered the local picture this past fall, didn’t merely catch the conference off-guard with her immense talents, but even managed to take Colonials coach Jon Block by surprise.
“Our school has in the past been very involved with exchange student programs,” said Block, who recently completed his 14th season at the helm. “Some of these students were athletes and they’ve come and gone, but none of Michaela’s quality.”
Entering the 2013 season, Block was optimistic about the state of his program and rightfully so, as the Colonials were returning the majority of its varsity squad from a season ago, including a pair of talented sophomores in Anjali Prabhat and Alexis Yu to the top of the lineup. But then the pot was sweetened.
“I knew we would have a nice team,” Block said, “and we expected to finish in the top five in Monmouth County. Then Michaela arrived and I knew we had the chance to go a lot further.”
“Michaeala very graciously did what she had to, what she was capable of doing, to win the No. 1 spot on our team, and the girls were very accepting of that because they knew we had the chance to do something special.”
What occurred was the most successful season in the history of the Freehold girls tennis as Hlavata helped lead the Colonials to a Monmouth County Flights team title, as well as an elusive Class B North divisional crown, not to mention a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament Finals with Holmdel.
Personally, Hlavata allotted a 24-1 record that included 24 consecutive victories, including an individual Monmouth County championship, four Shore Conference Tournament victories, two NJSIAA sectional tournament victories, and a run through the NJSIAA State Singles Tournament that saw the junior finally fall in the semifinals to the eventual tournament champion Christina Rosca of Princeton.
Despite the individual successes, Hlavata’s greatest memories will be of a group of teammates and coaches that welcomed her with open arms and became the best of friends and mentors.
“When I first got to Freehold, the school was so big and there were so many people that it was a little scary, but I had a great time playing here,” Hlavata said. “My favorite part was my teammates. They were so nice to me when I got here and we’ve become really good friends. I really liked the team atmosphere.”
According to Block, Hlavata is being recruited by several “major universities” in the Northeast and hopes to return to the United States to embark on a collegiate career.
Block also admits that though Hlavata does not plan on attending Freehold again in her senior year, the influence she has had on the program will be felt for seasons to come.
“We were a very young program coming into this season and Michaela helped our girls understand what it takes to be a championship team,” Block said. “Our girls saw how good a player she was and over the course of the year how hard she works to maintain that. And we know we’ll have to work even harder next season if we want to be near where were this year.”