QUICKSBURG — What started out as family bonding turned into a love of the game for Leigha Kagey.
The Stonewall Jackson junior decided to play tennis her freshman year because her sister was a senior on the squad. Just two years later Kagey is playing at the top spot in the Generals’ girls tennis lineup.
“She’s actually the reason why I got into tennis,” Kagey said of her sister, Lacey. “She was a senior when I was a freshman and she’s always wanted me to play a sport with her. So I played tennis and never changed.”
While she wasn’t a regular in the starting lineup her freshman year, Kagey said she did learn a lot that season, which helped her improve the last two years.
Last season, Kagey moved up to the No. 3 singles spot and also played No. 1 doubles with 2018 Stonewall Jackson graduate Sarah Miller.
Stonewall Jackson advanced to the Class 1 state tournament last year, losing in the state quarterfinals to Mathews. Kagey had key wins in singles and doubles in the Region 1B semifinals to beat top-seeded William Campbell.
“It felt pretty exciting, because you can say ‘hey, I helped this team go far,’” Kagey said. “I was part of the team that won these many matches and one that went to states.”
Stonewall Jackson girls tennis coach Bill Simmons said that he’s been pleased with how Kagey has handled the jump to the No. 1 singles spot this year.
“She just came back with a great attitude, because that No. 1 spot is tough,” Simmons said. “Our district is hard. So to have the maturity to handle that. You’re now going against some of the best players in (Class 1) and (Class 2) tennis — that’s a lot. And she’s handled it really well.”
Simmons said that Kagey took four games off of Stuarts Draft No. 1 singles player Grace Cheung, a senior. Simmons said he believes that is the most games any of his players have taken off of Cheung, who won the Shenandoah District Individual Singles title last season.
Kagey said she believes that playing at No. 1 doubles last year helped prepare her for the No. 1 singles spot this year.
“I knew some of the people that I had already played last year (in doubles),” Kagey said. “So I knew the level of the serving and the speed. I was coming into seed 1 knowing what I had to do and what to do.”
Kagey said she considers one of her strengths on the court to be the ability to move her opponents around using different types of shots.
Simmons said that he’s noticed Kagey being more aggressive with her shots now.
“She’s always kind of had a looping stroke to begin with,” Simmons said. “But she’s actually started to learn how to use it a little more aggressively instead of defensively. Because a lot of times when you hit that looper defensively, it just goes long. She’s actually learned how to make it get some topspin. ...So she’s learned how to do some different things.”
Playing at No. 1 comes with responsibility and leadership on a team and Kagey said that she is enjoying that new role. Simmons said he’s been pleased with her leadership with the team this season.
“It’s actually went better than I expected to be honest with you,” Simmons said. “The No. 1 spot has been a leadership role for us and this year with it not being a senior for the first time, I was worried about how that was going to go. She stepped right up and has been great. I think she does the little things with the kids. Like what are they going to wear to school — those sorts of things. They all responded well to her taking over that role and kind of being that voice of ‘this is what we’re going to do. This is how we’re going to be focused.’”
Kagey has played at No. 1 doubles with both Marleigh Councill and Mindi Freed. Simmons said they are still figuring out which combination gives them the best chance to win matches at No. 1 doubles. He said that because Kagey has such a versatile game, she can play with either player and have success.
The Generals have a young squad this season with only two seniors on the team and have struggled to find wins. They are 1-7 this season, right on the same pace they were last year. The Generals won two games in the regular season last year and then won two more when it mattered most in the postseason.
Simmons said that he was happy with how they performed against reigning Region 1B champion Riverheads last week. The Generals lost, 7-2, but lost several competitive individual matches that could have swung the team score the other way.
Kagey said she believes the team can get back to the Class 1 state tournament this year and it’s definitely a goal for the team.
“Last year, it was exciting,” Kagey said. “I think everybody wants to go to states again but it all comes down to how much we want to go to states again. ...If we work the way we want to and play the way we can — we can do it.”