The right-handed power of sophomore Alexis Burkhalter was on display at a new level last fall when she represented the Wellington girls tennis team at the Division II state doubles tournament for the first time.

Although she has considerably more experience holding a racket, her swing of a softball bat also has blossomed.

Burkhalter was ready to build on a strong freshman season with the softball team this spring before the OHSAA canceled all of spring sports because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"I love batting," Burkhalter said. "It's probably one of my favorite things to do. I also love the environment that softball has, and the competition is very nice. It's a nice, fun sport to play."

Burkhalter batted .508 with 30 RBI and 19 stolen bases last spring as the Jaguars went 10-12 overall and placed fifth in the MSL-Cardinal Division at 4-8 behind co-champions Fisher Catholic and Berne Union (both 11-1).

She started most of the season at first base despite having never played for a summer travel team.

"With tennis, she has played since she was 4, so I expected her to have some level of success this early," said softball coach Me-Chelle Burkhalter, Alexis' mother. "(Her) softball (success) caught me off guard. She never played summer ball. Softball was kind of a shock to everyone but my mom. She picks her glove up in February and is a natural softball player."

Alexis Burkhalter played for the Jaguars' girls basketball team as a freshman but elected to focus on tennis this past winter.

In addition to playing softball this spring, she planned to compete on a restarted girls track and field program that was to be coached by Tonderai Tomu.

Although Wellington hasn't been represented in track since 2016 when Keilah Causey competed in the Division III state meet, about 20 girls showed interest in competing for the program this spring, according to Burkhalter.

"I've worked out on my own and my private coach has sent me tennis drills to do on my own," Burkhalter said. "I was planning on doing track this year, so I've been doing track and softball workouts with my mom. We had a pretty big (track) team this year with a couple of the basketball players that were going to compete and I know some of the soccer players were also coming out.

"I knew I was going to do decent (at softball) because I did well my eighth-grade year and my swing is similar to my tennis swing, but I did a lot better than I expected (as a freshman) so I was (surprised)."

Having grown up around softball may have helped Burkhalter.

Her mother, whose maiden name is Larsuel, was a letterwinner for the Ohio State softball team in 1992 and '93.

"I played at Ohio State, my grandfather was a fast-pitch pitcher, my sister played," Me-Chelle Burkhalter said. "My niece, Jakaysha Williams, graduated from Wellington (in 2018) and she was my speedy outfielder, so it's always been a family sport."

According to coach Burkhalter, her daughter's best position may be catcher even though she played solid defense at first base last spring.

Her future, though, likely will revolve around tennis.

After teaming with Akua Antwi-Woods to reach a semifinal in the Division II district tennis tournament as a freshman, Alexis Burkhalter teamed with freshman Katie Zerbi last fall to win sectional and district championships and become Wellington's first state qualifiers in doubles since 2002.

Burkhalter and Zerbi also became the Jaguars' first doubles team to win a match at state since 1989, as they won their first two matches before falling 6-1, 6-0 to eventual champions Hayley Hirsch and Morgan Coburn of Cincinnati Indian Hill in a semifinal. They then lost their consolation match to place fourth.

"We're hoping to go back and do better (at state)," Burkhalter said. "We've been practicing playing doubles because we have good chemistry and we want to work on it.

"None of my family members have really played tennis much, but I've always watched it on TV and I fell in love with it. My sophomore season, I did a lot better than I expected. I knew I had a good chance of going to state. We had a great team and everyone at my school supported Katie and me and the environment was just crazy. I just want to focus on getting my serve better and just the small things."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek