In late October, seventh-grader Jessica Aney of Rochester, Minn. nearly made state history. With a shot at the Class 2A state high school tennis title at the tender age of 12, Aney fell just short in the championship match, falling to junior Rochester Century (Minn.) High teammate Kelsey Frechette 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
Aney, who stands only 4-foot-10, only lost three times all season, each in a match against Frechette in one tournament or another. According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, the seventh grader also finished third in her age group at the USTA Winter National Tennis Championships last January.
Perhaps more amazingly, Aney was competing in that tournament during the middle of her other sport, ice hockey. The diminutive forward is universally considered one of the top-15 girls ice hockey prospects in the country, with a nasty snapshot she honed in the family basement to the point of walking upstairs with bloody hands, asking her father, Tom Aney, to tape them so she could shoot some more.
That focus was also ever-present in the seventh grader's tennis training.
"She's just able to stay on task so well," Rochester Tennis Connection owner and teaching professional Tim Butorac told the Post-Bulletin. "Tom would tell her to hit a few tennis balls against the wall. Finally, he'd be dragging her away from the wall, she'd hit so many balls."
The SportsKid of the Year award is billed as an honor that focuses not just on athletic achievement, but also academics and charity work. Aney fulfilled both of those criteria, with a 4.0 GPA at Friedell Middle School and a track record as a regular volunteer at Minnesota's Operation Hometown Gratitude, which sends packages to active military overseas.
"Jessie is a fantastic two-sport athlete and a fantastic student, who also serves her community," Sports Illustrated for Kids editor and publisher Bob Der said at Aney's presentation ceremony. "She is a great choice for us."
As for Aney? The surprised seventh grader was giddily succinct at the ceremony unveiling the forthcoming issue on which she'll grace the cover.
"I think it is really cool that I got this award, so thank you," Aney said at the school assembly, according to the Post-Bulletin.