Bethel freshman making her mark

Mark Schnabel
Bethel freshman Daniela Herrera and coach Gabe Johnson celebrate Herrera's singles title at the ITA-NAIA Regionals in Winfield. Herrera plays next weekend at the ITA Nationals in Rome, Ga.

Bethel College tennis player Daniela Herrera hasn’t been on campus long but has already made a big impact on the program.

The freshman from Juarez, Mexico, is unbeaten in singles play, won the KCAC individual title in singles and became just the second BC player in school history to win the Intercollegiate Tennis Association-National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics regional singles title.

She will play in the ITA-NAIA National Championships Oct. 16-18 at the Rome Tennis Center in Rome, Ga.

The tournament will feature eight regional winners and eight at-large selections.

“I feel good,” Herrera said of her trip to nationals. “I didn’t expect to do that well. I’m happy with how things are going. My parents are like, ‘You can’t lose. You can do this.’ Now that I’m at nationals, I can demonstrate what I can do.”

“She brings a lot of passion for tennis,” Bethel coach Gabe Johnson said. “She loves being out there. I think that energy is contagious to everybody else. She brings a really high level as a player. She wants to be out there and is excited to be out there every day. The rest of the team just feeds off of that.”

Herrera said she didn’t have any goals in terms of placing for next week.

“I just want to have fun and enjoy what I do,” she said. “(For the season) I just want to be a good teammate and help others. I want to enjoy my sport. That’s something I want to do every day.”

Herrera said that Bethel has been a pretty good fit for her so far.

“My parents started sending e-mails to different schools,” Herrera said. “One of the schools that answered was Bethel. Another school that answered was in Texas. I liked how things are at Bethel and decided to come here. It’s good. The weather is different. I like the weather.”

“It wasn’t too hard (to recruit her),” Johnson said. “We definitely hit it off right away. I think what she was looking for in a school, and what her parents are looking for, Bethel offered. She is a great individual and a great player, so we were definitely interested in her right away. There was an immediate connection between myself, her and Bethel.”

She intends to major in education and math.

She said the tennis here is more competitive.

“Where I live, the girls don’t compete as much,” Herrera said. “Here, the girls have more experience. It’s better competing.”

She has played at the national level in Mexico.

The last Bethel player to reach the ITA nationals was Paige McKinney back in 2009. McKinney did that as a senior and with NCAA Division I experience under her belt.

“She got pushed at the regional level and now she’ll get pushed at the national level,” Johnson said. “It will be a good measuring stick for where she is as a freshman. We’re excited to see where she stands, and then we’ll get to work with what’s going to help her take the next step. When you think about where Bethel has been for a long time, it’s crazy to think we’re back again with a freshman. That’s really exciting. Just knowing the great players that have come through at Bethel, just demonstrates how difficult it is to make this happen.

“Daniela is a good player. She’s worked hard and is really focused. She understands the history of Bethel tennis pretty well. She knows what an incredible achievement this is.”