STEPHENS CITY — Maddy Woolever was scared to play in the starting lineup for Sherando’s tennis team as a freshman. She begged coach Trevor Johnson not to move her into a starting spot. He did and it’s a move that has paid big dividends ever since.
Woolever said she didn’t even want to try out for Sherando’s tennis team, but Johnson, her English teacher, talked her into it.
“He got me to go to tryouts and I was really surprised because I didn’t think that I would be able to do well,” Woolever said. “But when he said that I was No. 6 (in the starting lineup) I was terrified. I kept telling him not to do it and I didn’t want to do it.”
Johnson said he found out about Woolever through Sherando volleyball coach James Minney. Johnson said he asked Minney if he had volleyball players that might be looking to play a sport in the spring and Woolever was one of the players Minney mentioned.
Woolever said she had been playing tennis since she was 5 or 6 through Frederick County Parks and Recreation but had never had any tennis lessons so she didn’t think she would do well. However, she couldn’t have done any better her freshman season.
Woolever went undefeated playing at No. 6 singles and helped lead the Warriors to the Class 4 state finals where they lost to Hanover.
Woolever was the only freshman in a starting lineup with an experienced squad that had just reached the Class 4 state semifinals the year before. She said that the competition on the team was great that season and pushed everyone to be at their best.
“I gained a lot of experience and I got a lot better that first year playing because everybody was super competitive,” Woolever said. “And everybody just wanted to make everybody a better player. ... I’ve never felt that much competition before, but it was really, really good because it pushed everyone to get better. To play as much as they can to just keep the team as strong as they could. That was probably the biggest thing I remember from that year was just how competitive some of those people were.”
Another thing she said she remembered fondly from that season was the support from the school the team had once they made it far into the postseason.
“I never thought I would be on a team that would go that far in anything,” Woolever said. “Just most of our matches there wasn’t like a big crowd or anything, like football has giant crowds. It doesn’t really happen (in tennis), but when we would have regionals there was so many people out here and supporting us. I never thought that I would see that. So that was a really cool feeling that people actually cared about it once we started going further.”
Woolever said that going undefeated in singles as a freshman put pressure on her for her sophomore season. She moved up to the No. 3 singles spot and once again had a stellar year. She lost to Handley’s Ava Lewis three times but won every other singles match.
She said she was happy with her results, especially since she was going up against tougher competition.
“I was really worried,” Woolever said. “I was definitely going up and playing people, that probably would have had private lessons and outside coaches. I just knew that every match I had to play my hardest. I had to give my all and I needed to not let anything get to me. And I just needed to keep on going, which I did for a lot of them.”
The Warriors just missed making the Class 4 state tournament last season. They lost 5-4 to Riverside in the Region 4C semifinals.
In the offseason, Woolever decided to make some changes. She began taking lessons and doing clinics at Winchester Country Club and she gave up her other sport — volleyball. Woolever said she had played volleyball for a long time and enjoyed it, but she said she enjoys playing an individual sport like tennis more than a team sport.
Another reason she gave up volleyball was to focus more on her studies. Woolever is in her second year participating in the Governor’s School Program. She said being a part of the program typically adds about two hours of studying each day and it was just a little too much to do two sports as well.
“The first year was the biggest transition period,” she said. “So that’s definitely the toughest. But this year now that you kind of know how to manage your time, it’s better. You really should be working at all times whenever you can. Knowing that helps a lot, and it’s become a lot easier to manage.”
Woolever said that she has learned a lot from being in the program and it’s taught her to be more independent and responsible.
“I love being in that program,” Woolever said. “It definitely has prepared me for college a lot with more of the rigor and late work isn’t really accepted there, which is different from high school. It’s more like the teachers still care a lot, but they’re also not quite as present as in high school. They still care about you, check up on you, but it’s not like they’re going to be over you every second making sure you’re doing your homework. So it teaches you to have a lot more accountability for yourself.”
Johnson said that Woolever’s intelligence definitely helps her out on the court and she’s able to think and play smart.
“Maddy’s consistent in the sense I don’t think she’s going to make too many mistakes,” Johnson said. “She has her bad days, but she’s patient enough and smart enough to figure things out.”
Woolever said before this tennis season started she was playing tennis four or five times a week and she feels like she’s improved her game. She said she prefers to hit her forehand and her serve, which are two of her biggest weapons on the court.
One of her main goals for the season was to play at No. 2 singles for the Warriors, but she took a setback when she lost to teammate Emily Loy, 6-4, in a challenge match for the spot early in the season.
“I definitely knew that (Loy) beat me and that was good,” Woolever said. “She was better than me at that point. So that’s when I did more private lessons. And I was like want to be No. 2 — that’s what I want to do this season. So I’m going to do it. So I began taking more private lessons. I started taking practices a little more seriously. And then I challenged her and I won 6-0 so that I was 2 again.”
Johnson said he thought about keeping Woolever at No. 2 even when she lost to Loy, a sophomore, but he felt it would be a good experience for both players and it worked out well.
“I’ve told them before just because you lose a close match doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to switch it,” Johnson said. “But I thought if I did switch it, it would make (Woolever) be upset about it and want it back.”
Things took another twist when Sherando senior Alexa Venturato, who plays at No. 1 singles, suffered an injury. It is unknown how long Venturato will be out, but Woolever has had to step up and play at the No. 1 spot. She is undefeated in singles this season, including at the No. 1 spot.
Woolever said that she was a little nervous playing her first match at the position last week against Warren County.
“That was really scary, just like being at 1 and playing on this first court,” Woolever said. “If you’re playing at 2 or at 5 you’re still out there, but everybody’s watching 1. And in my head before (the match) it was going to be a lot more nerve-wracking than it was because once I got out there, it really just felt like a normal match.”
Woolever won her first singles match at No, 1, 8-0. Woolever said she plans on working on her game even more outside of school so that she can do her best while playing at the top spot.
The Warriors are 7-1 this season. Their only loss came to Fauquier, where they had to play without Woolever, due to illness, and Venturato.
Woolever said she wants the team to get back to regionals this season and go as far as it can.
“Last year we lost 4-5 to Riverside (in the region semifinals), if we can even get that far that would be great but further would always be better,” Woolever said. “But just for everyone to improve would probably be my biggest goal. For everyone to feel like they got better and made the team better overall.”