SU freshman heads to World Junior Nationals in November
By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Racquetball wasn't always a passion for Kelani Bailey, although a quick glance at her parents' accomplishments in the sport would lead you to think otherwise.
Bailey's parents, Jim and Malia, were both professional racquetball players with the International Racquetball Tour. As a professional, Malia claimed over 40 national championships.
One could safely assume that Jim and Malia's children would quickly grasp the sport that they both enjoyed -- but Kelani Bailey didn't want anything to do with racquetball while growing up.
"When I was younger, I hated racquetball," said Bailey. "I would always be dragged to tournaments and I would have nothing to do. I would just sit there and it was so boring."
Bailey resisted playing the sport for years, but she couldn't fight the fact that racquetball was in her blood. Finally, at the age of 10, Bailey decided to attend one of her mother's racquetball clinics.
Eight years later, the 18-year-old Bailey is a member of the USA Junior National racquetball team and is currently the top-ranked woman in the nation in both singles and doubles for the 18-and-under age group.
On her way to that prestigious rank, Bailey has claimed 19 national titles since the age of 13, including gold medals in singles and doubles during last year's International Racquetball Federation World Junior Championships.
"Once I went to nationals that first year, I really wanted to keep playing because it was so much fun," said Bailey. "You just want to keep going back to nationals and seeing all of your friends and competing. It's just really cool."
Bailey also has a world title to her credit, which she won in doubles in the Dominican Republic in 2009.
Bailey attributes much of her success in racquetball to her parents, who have served not only as valuable mentors to their daughter, but challenging training partners as well.
"Their games are completely different, so if I have trouble with something, sometimes my dad's perspective on it will be better," said Bailey. "But my mom, she knows my game a little better. She teaches me how to be really aggressive and cut the ball off. That's why I do really well in tournaments, because the other girls aren't as aggressive and they get caught off guard when I cut the ball off and stuff like that."
Bailey will attempt to use that aggressiveness for another shot at gold.
The Norfolk native is set to defend her spot at the top of the rankings list when she heads to the 2012 World Junior Championships in Los Angeles on November 11-17. Like last season, Bailey will compete in both the women's singles and doubles events, giving her the opportunity to add two more gold medals to her ever-growing collection.
But training for the upcoming trip to the West Coast has proved more difficult for Bailey than in years past. Bailey, a freshman at Shenandoah University, is not only busy working towards her degree in athletic training and physical therapy, but she is also a starting forward for the Hornets' field hockey team.
Between homework, class time and field hockey practices and games, Bailey has limited time to hit the racquetball court. Still, she makes good use of the little time she does have, and she spends many of her free moments at Stonebrook Racquet and Fitness Club sharpening her skills against anyone who will step into the court with her.
"I'm pretty good at managing time," Bailey said. "If I have a little bit of time, I've got to fill it. In between classes, I'll come [to Stonebrook Club] and play racquetball with some friends. I have to practice on my own too, so I'll come maybe like three times a week. Since I got [to Shenandoah], I haven't practiced too much."
Bailey often brings several friends with her when she plays racquetball at Stonebrook Club, many of whom aren't very familiar with the sport.
That's perfectly fine with Bailey, who is also a certified racquetball instructor.
"I'm all for it, I love when people are interested in playing," said Bailey. "I'm a really good teacher. My mom has been giving me all these lessons and I've helped her do clinics and things for little kids."
Bailey said she wants to start a racquetball team at Shenandoah and compete with similar collegiate teams across the country. Her goal is to prepare a team in time to participate in next year's National Intercollegiate Championships, which is to be held in late-March.
Bailey hopes that she can use her knowledge of racquetball to get children interested in the sport through clinics and training sessions, much like her mother's clinic did for her eight years ago.
"I get really excited when people are interested in it, because not many people play it anymore," Bailey said. "It's going downhill, pretty much. Especially with girls, there are barely any girls that play. We really need to get more people playing and interested."
Sports writer Brad Fauber can be reached at 540-465-5137 ext. 184 or firstname.lastname@example.org