As a youngster in the Edina tennis machine, Nicole Copeland got a front-row view of Caitlyn Merzbacher's back-to-back state singles championships in 2013 and '14.
"It was inspiration for me," said Copeland, a sophomore. "She's such a close friend. When I watched her, I was thinking, 'I wish I could do that.' It was something I definitely wanted someday, but I didn't expect it."
She might not have expected to win the Class 2A singles championship in October, but that's exactly what she did, completing an undefeated season with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Elk River's Meagan Brown in the finals.
As the Star Tribune's Metro Girls' Tennis Player of the Year, Copeland is the 10th Edina player to win a singles title, dating to 1979.
"Before the season, I had a goal of going undefeated during the general season, but I didn't really have a goal for state," she said "I had no idea I was even going to make it."
The first few days after her championship were filled with congratulations and accolades, but the attention faded pretty quickly. It wasn't long before she was back to being just another student walking the halls. Which is exactly the way she prefers it.
"Where does tennis rank for me? Probably No. 3," she said. "It's family, school, then tennis. School is very important to me. If I have to take time away from tennis for school, that's OK. Tennis is a big part of my life, but I try not to get too wrapped up in it."
Copeland admits to slowing down her pace in recent weeks, a little refresher before she starts playing tournaments on regular basis after Christmas. Slowing down being a relative term, of course.
"It's not like I've completely stopped," she said. "More like, I'm playing four days a week. Usually, I play six."