VanPelt Makes Impact on National Stage
Since she was learning how to walk, the tennis racquet has been an extension of Kinley VanPelt’s right arm. At the age of two, she began learning the game, and by six she was playing in Net Generation tournaments.
“When I first started getting into tennis, I would always want to be on the court,” she said. “In second grade I realized, ‘Wow, I could be pretty good.’ I’ve had to miss some social activities because of tennis, but I’d rather go to a tennis tournament than a school dance.”
Now, as a 13 year old, VanPelt’s name has begun popping up on the national stage. In 2018, after a dominating run in USTA Heart of America and USTA Missouri Valley tournaments, she began playing in national tournaments.
At her first national tournament, she defeated her first two opponents before falling in the round of 16. She defeated her first two opponents again in the 2018 Capitoline Wolf Classic when the rest of the tournament was canceled due to weather.
If players in her age group did not know her name after those performances, they would be sure to after her showing at the USTA National Level 2 Tournament. VanPelt made easy work of her competition, dropping just seven games in eight sets on her way to the tournament championship. She fell in the finals, but she had made her mark.
“Going into the tournament I didn’t think that I would go that far,” Kinley said. “It was fun being the one that nobody knew, to go in there and win like that.”
Since her tennis breakout, VanPelt has seen further success at national tournaments, qualifying for the round of 32 at the USTA Girls’ 12 National Championships, making another finals appearance in the USTA Winter National Championships, qualifying for the round of 16 at the Girls’ 12 National Clay Court Championships and earning bronze at the USTA Girls' 12 Hardcourt Nationals.
Tennis is a family affair for the VanPelts. Kinley’s father, Vance, was the 2010 USTA Missouri Valley USPTA Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year. He was Kinley’s first coach, but has since stepped back and taken on the role of tennis parent.
“Tennis has been something that’s given us a common bond, and it’s been a lot of fun for us,” Vance said.
With the joys of being a tennis parent, there also come responsibilities. Vance speaks highly of the level of accountability that Kinley has taken on, but it takes a village to raise a tennis prodigy.
“It’s a high level commitment for the player, but also everyone in the support group, from parents, to siblings, to the coaches,” he said. “It’s important to me that, whatever you do, you do it as well as you can. That means us as well, we do as best as we can to help our kids. We want to let them know that we’re supporting them and that it’s not all on them. That’s what we signed up to do as parents.”
While Kinley’s dedication to the game is impressive, she, along with her parents, want to make sure that she does not become a victim of burnout. Throughout the past year, she took a half-step away from tennis, focusing on new activities and making new connections.
“I wanted to take a break, because I wanted to make sure that I was a kid, too,” Kinley said. “A lot of my friends were signing up for the cheer team, so I wanted to do that. I’ve played basketball since I was little, so I decided to do that too.”
Right as Kinley was prepared to return her focus to tennis, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In her estimation, it was not necessarily a bad thing, as it allowed her to get back on the court with her family and return to peak form.
“My strokes weren’t as good when I first returned, so going into the summer I worked harder than I even thought I could,” she said. “I kept going and pushing myself, and now I feel like I’m back to my old self.”
Kinley’s return to tennis came at the OPRC/KCUT Open Tournament in early July, where she played at the Girls’ 16 level. She won three of her four matches on the day, in her first tournament in nearly six months.
Kinley continues to display all of the features of a rising tennis star. Her competitive drive, work ethic and love for the game are obvious.
“That girl is driven to do it on her own,” Vance said. “She’s intrinsically motivated and she outworks everybody.”
However, it’s not only her on-the-court capabilities that are impressive. In discussion with her, it becomes apparent that she’s got a great head on her shoulders, an implication of the job that her parents, grandparents and coaches at OPRC have done in making her a well-rounded individual.
As Kinley’s rise continues, more and more people will get to see what makes her special, both on and off the court. In 2019, Kinley’s accomplishments earned her the USTA Heart of America 2019 Junior Player of the Year award. Who do you know that deserves a USTA Heart of America award in 2020? Nominate them before September 15, 2020.