Skyline’s Venable excited for sophomore season

Skyline's Kaylee Venable is ready to build off a solid freshman season, when she played at No. 1 singles for the Hawks. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Kaylee Venable couldn’t be more ready for her sophomore season.

The Skyline girls tennis player had a solid season as a freshman, but she believes the experience she gained will help her have an even better season this year.

“Last year was almost like a trial run. Now I’m thinking of it as the real thing,” Venable said. “I don’t really think I had any set goals last year. I just kind of went out and I didn’t really know what to expect. I think this year I have a much better understanding physically and mentally of what I really have to do to get to where I want to be.”

That could be bad news for Venable’s competition this season. As soon as last season was over, Venable began thinking of what she needed to do to improve her game.

She said one of the biggest things was to add some variety to her game. Venable said she now loves to use drop shots, lobs, and top spin to throw off her opponents instead of just hitting regular groundstrokes from the baseline.

Venable trains at Winchester Country Club and is coached there by tennis club pro Roy Laird. She takes clinics there and gets to hit with other players from around the area.

“It’s the best experience I’ve had in tennis,” Venable said of training at Winchester Country Club. “The players over there are so amazing and the coaches are fabulous. They really know what they’re talking about. It’s great. I love it. They make it fun, but you also learn a lot.”

She also got to take two separate clinics with former professional tennis players Brenda Schultz-McCarthy and Mats Wilander. She was invited to McCarthy’s junior tennis camp in Patrick County, near Roanoke.

Venable said hitting with former world No. 1 and seven-time grand slam champion Wilander was exciting.

“Oh my gosh, that was great,” Venable said with a smile. “We all just kind of walked out on the court and he was standing there and he was touching the net and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I touched that net and now he’s touching that net.’ It was crazy just thinking of how many legends he’s met in tennis and now he’s working with us. It was awesome. I loved it. I definitely want to do it again this year.”

Venable has also been playing in United States Tennis Association tournaments in the offseason, and said she’s enjoyed playing against strong competition in the USTA events.

She said that plays tennis about six days a week. When Venable’s not playing tennis she’s training for horse jumping shows, which she said she loves just as much as tennis. She said she benefits from doing both sports.

“One conditions me for the next,” Venable said. “A lot of show jumpers I know play tennis. I compete [in show jumping] in the summer, but I train for it five times a week.”

Venable doesn’t have to look far to find someone to play tennis with. Her mom, Lisa, was a No. 1 player for Warren County when she was in school, and also played in USTA tournaments, and still plays the game regularly.

Lisa Venable, who is the assistant coach for Skyline’s girls tennis team, said she didn’t push Kaylee to play but wanted her to develop a love of the game on her own first. Lisa Venable said that she hits with Kaylee about three times a week.

“My mom took me out [to play], and I was 16 when I first beat my mom. I’m waiting for the day when Kaylee beats me. It’s coming, she takes games off me now,” Lisa Venable said. “She’s a smart tennis player. I’m very impressed with her mental game as well as her physical game. I think she has a good future.”

Last year Kaylee Venable advanced to the Conference 28 singles and doubles tournament, but came up short in the semifinals in both. Playing at No. 1 singles as a freshman can be a tough challenge, but she said she learned a lot and is very excited to build on that for this season.

Skyline head girls tennis coach John Natalie said he first saw Venable play when she was in middle school, and could immediately see how nice her groundstrokes were. Natalie said she’s just getting better and better all the time.

“Her strengths are that she’s very consistent. She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Natalie said. “You really have to hit an outstanding shot to win a point against her. She’s a little more aggressive than she was before.

“She doesn’t really have any weaknesses. She’s not a one-trick pony, she does everything well.”

As a team the Hawks struggled last year, winning only five matches. However, several of the players on this year’s team have been playing year-round and there’s good reason for optimism about the upcoming season.

“Whenever you get that, where you have year-round players and not just players that pick up their rackets once every spring, that’s where you really see improvement and you can take it to the next level against other teams,” Natalie said. “If you have people that are playing or taking lessons year-round, that’s going to give you a leg up and I have that.”

No matter how the team does, Kaylee Venable should have a very strong season. Lisa Venable said she just wants Kaylee to simply try her best and have fun with it.

“My goal for her is just to go out there and give 100 percent,” Lisa Venable said. “I think she’s plenty hard on herself, but yet very level headed. We always joke it’s one thing to get beat and it’s another thing to lose. She doesn’t want to lose. If she gets beat, she gets beat. She’s going to take that as a learning experience.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com