In five minutes, one could take a shower, watch a funny YouTube video or take a quick power nap. In five minutes, junior Kaelli Thiel can analyze her opponent for whether she is right or left-handed, what kind of strokes and grip she has, what kind of balls she does not like, whether she can volley well, and whether her serve has spin.
Her third year as varsity number one singles, Thiel practices at least two hours a day on weekdays and plays tournaments about half of the weekends. When she does not have a tournament, she usually allows herself one day off.
Thiel began playing tennis when she was 11 years old. Her grandfather’s first cousin, a tennis fanatic, gave her free lessons and taught her basic strokes. A week before turning 12, Thiel entered a novice tournament.
“I won the first tournament I entered, so I guess it was just a really good first experience for me, and ever since then I’ve liked competing,” Thiel said.
For Thiel, tennis is a year-round sport. Over the summer, she represented the NorCal team at the Zonals tournament in Salt Lake City. She also participated in the New Balance High School Championship in Boston, making it to the top 8 out of 64 of the top high school tennis players in the nation.
Though she puts in a lot of time and plays tournaments outside of school, she also enjoys playing on the high school team.
“I really like having the team aspect in such an individual sport,” Thiel said. “It just makes it more fun when you have people there cheering you on.”
Women’s varsity co-captain senior Emily Kelleher said Thiel brings a lot of spirit to the team and inspires everyone to improve.
“Because of her accomplishments it kind of motivates the whole team,” Kelleher said. “Having her be as good as she is pushes us to be better.”
Thiel has an excellent work ethic and is a true sportswoman, said women’s varsity tennis coach Neil Rothenberg.
“She’s willing to be an honest player on the court and winning at all costs is not her motive,” Rothenberg said. “She gets a lot of respect from other players because she doesn’t act out.”
She can also hold her own against the boys, winning half the time against varsity men’s tennis player senior Daniel Lin. He said he gets a challenge every time he plays with her.
“She’s a tough player to beat because she’s very consistent in her ground strokes and is never afraid to go for the big shots when given the chance to do so,” Lin said.
Though not officially in the dictionary, Thiel even has a verb named after her.
“‘Kaell’ed’ means you are losing in the beginning of the match pretty badly and then make a huge comeback to win the match,” Lin said. “For example, you go down 6-0 the first set, win the second set 6-2, and win the third set 6-0.”
Tennis is all about the head game and conduct on the court, Kelleher said. Having a focused mindset is something Thiel is no amateur at.
“She’s pretty feisty and a little sassy,” Sweeney said. “If she’s playing someone she’s getting a little annoyed with, she’ll give them a bit of attitude. It’s hilarious to watch.”
Thiel said she enjoys playing tennis because it is an independent sport that challenges both her mental and physical strength.
“You can’t rely on anyone else and you can’t blame anyone else,” Thiel said. “It’s like a puzzle, too, figuring out how to play a specific person and how you can always improve, win or lose.”
Rothenberg said Thiel is in it for the long haul and willing to take chances.
“There are lots of ways to get better and one of them is being able to try even if it means failure and losing to someone,” Rothenberg said. “She’s a real role model for everyone else as far as working on their game. Because if they want to get better, they see what it takes.”