Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — It has been a winding road with bumps along the way but Fairfield’s Yana Gaskell has settled on a college team where she will play tennis.
“I’m really excited to be going to Drake University because it has a great Division I tennis team and a terrific academic program,” Gaskell said. “I would like to thank everyone who helped me along the way.”
The Drake Bulldogs have excelled at women’s tennis this season. Drake won its ninth Missouri Valley Conference title with a dominant 4-0 win over Missouri State to clinch the program's third-ever NCAA Tournament berth and its first since 2000.
“Yana is someone who puts everything she has into her tennis matches,” Fairfield coach Heidi Grunewald said. “She will work hard to do the best she can.”
The last Division I tennis player from Fairfield was Jennifer Bradfield Downham, who graduated in 2007. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, which is a member of the Horizon League.
Gaskell was the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Iowa in 2019, and was ranked 222nd nationally by Tennis Recruiting Network.
Gaskell has numerous accolades to her credit, including a Missouri Valley Futures title and an Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state singles championship in 2019. Gaskell needed just 30 minutes to blank Trojan teammate and two-time Class 1A defending state champion Anatta Charoenkul in straight sets. Only twice did a game get to 40-30. Gaskell lost two games in four matches over two days to win a title she was determined to have.
“Anatta was always someone who has really pushed me,” said Gaskell, who finished that season 23-0 and handed Charoenkul (23-2) her only two losses. “It was really good to prove myself against her.”
As a freshman at state, Gaskell had a chance at the championship, leading Charoenkul 4-1 in the second set before losing five straight games. Charoenkul finished her career with two state titles and two runner-up finishes.
“Yana’s game has improved so much with great placement and a lot of hard spin shots,” Charoenkul said. “She’s such an amazing player.”
But the combination of no season and an injury to her knee that required surgery put her on the sidelines until the first round of the postseason started in 2021. The surgery was in the middle of February.
In her first high school match since the 2019 state championship, Gaskell defeated Savana Walls of Mt. Pleasant with a 6-0, 6-0 win in the No. 1 match.
“It’s been surprisingly smoother than expected,” Gaskell said about her battle back to action. “With tennis, there are so many variables. Four months out, I couldn’t even hit a ball on the court.”
Gaskell started swinging the racket again in May. The physical abilities were only part of getting back to playing again. Gaskell said that the nerves were there when she finally stepped on the court for a real match.
“Not only have I not played tennis in a month, but I was slightly injured in the summer, too,” she said. “It was great to be playing again. I was very much part of the team all season, going to most practices and matches and helping out when I could, but it was great to be actually playing again.”
“She has positive self talk during a match and this helps her to push through the hard time,” Grunewald said.
Because of the injury, she didn’t play matches in the singles postseason, but played doubles and then played singles in the team postseason. Gaskell knocked off Waterloo Columbus Catholic’s Sasha Hyacinth 2-6, 6-0, 10-2 just two days after Hyacinth won the 2021 state singles title in Waterloo.
“I kind of wanted to prove myself,” Gaskell said. “I came out a little nervous and didn't play too well, but I got my game together.”
“Everything worked out great, though,” Gaskell said.
Gaskell had considered other schools but only visited two before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down any in-person recruiting.
“I’m really excited because I loved the campus and the overall feel of the university and all the courses they offer,” Gaskell said. “I’m looking forward to being part of a tennis team as I have really enjoyed being on the FHS team.”
Gaskell said it will be a challenge to up her skills as the competition will be much more intense.
“I want to take my game to the next level and continue to work hard and improve,” she said. “It will be nice to be quite close to home and Des Moines is a city I have always enjoyed visiting and playing tennis in.”
As for her future, she is undecided. She has had a full plate of decisions to digest and is pushing back from the table to assess.
“Going into college, I’m still pretty undecided about a lot of things,” Gaskell said.
Drake does not require students to declare their major until the second year so Gaskell is just listed as undecided.
“That being said, for my major, I’m thinking,” Gaskell said. “(I’m considering) going down the field of economics/business/finance.”