Free State’s VanPelt earns national honors, Player of the Year nomination

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Free State returning junior Kinley VanPelt, following a stellar sophomore year that welcomed a Class 6A state title, has been named one of 25 total nominees for the USA Today High School Girls Tennis Player of the Year.

State tennis champion Kinley VanPelt joined 24 other high school players on the All-USA Today Girls Tennis Team last week, cementing her nomination for Player of the Year. The winner is slated to be revealed later this month on July 30.

The only Kansan featured on this year’s national team, Free State’s VanPelt brought home the Class 6A singles title as a sophomore when she defeated Blue Valley Northwest senior Emily Chiasson (23-6) in Wichita last October.

VanPelt, who missed her freshman season due to a hip injury, set a high bar of 29-0 in singles during just her second year with the Firebirds’ tennis program. Finishing her sophomore campaign as the state’s only undefeated singles player, VanPelt was named an All-American by the National High School All-American Tennis Foundation earlier this month.

“It’s probably the highest ceiling you could ask for,” VanPelt said.

Free State coach Aaron Clark is ecstatic about retaining another VanPelt to the tennis program’s leadership for the near future. The older VanPelt sister, Keegan, stacked four years of All-Sunflower League First Team play while in Lawrence.

Keegan currently plays tennis at the University of Nebraska-Omaha after graduating from Free State in 2021. Additionally, VanPelt’s aunt was a four-time state champion at Osborne High in north-central Kansas.

The two VanPelt sisters began competing when they were very young. Their father, Vance, a former high school tennis coach in Hutchinson, had Kinley holding a racket when she was just two years old. By her eighth birthday, VanPelt was competing in traveling tournaments.

“It was fun when we had tournaments together,” VanPelt said about competing alongside her sister before high school. “But at the same time, once I got up to about 10 or 11 (years old), we never really played the same tournament. It was a pretty short span.”

Following her sister’s lead, VanPelt is only scratching the surface of a monumental tennis career at Free State. Entering her junior year, VanPelt has earned nothing but rave reviews from her head coach.

“She’s just about one of the best players there are,” Clark said. “She had a great sophomore year and, in the future, wherever that may be, she’ll continue that success. When you travel across the country and play in tournaments, invest a lot of time and effort, these types of nominations are what pays off in the end.”


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