Kiley Zabel waits patiently at the net as her doubles partner, Katelyn Mensendiek, sends a serve across the net.
Zabel continues to stalk the net, watching returns soar over her head, allowing Mensendiek to volley them back over. Zabel is just waiting for the right opportunity.
Eventually, a player from Waldron sends a ball with a low trajectory toward the net. This is Zabel’s chance. She pounces at it, spiking the ball back over the net, leaving no chance for Waldron to return it. Point Trinity Lutheran.
Mensendiek gives her a high five, voices from outside the fence say, “Nice shot, Kiley.”
Playing up at the net has become a strength of Zabel’s, and after plays like that, many would be surprised to find out that Zabel picked up a tennis racket for the first time just about a month ago.
“For a player who has never even picked up a racket, I mean, she is a seasoned athlete in the world of volleyball, but that has crossed over for her,” Trinity head coach Julie Lemming said after the match. “She just has great reaction time. She’s a great net player. She still has a lot to learn, but I’m pleased with how quickly she has picked things up.”
As Lemming mentioned, volleyball is the true passion for Zabel. She played softball at a very young age, but around the fifth grade, Zabel committed to volleyball as her main sport.
She played junior varsity for the Cougars this past fall and on rare occasions would find herself on the floor for varsity as a freshman. This season went well, according to Zabel, but it didn’t end the way they wanted it to.
As she entered the offseason, she thought she should join the tennis team. If nothing else, it would keep her conditioned throughout the spring.
“I just wanted to stay in shape for the next (volleyball) season, and I thought tennis would be a good way to improve things like my speed and footwork and stuff like that,” Zabel said.
When she got to tryouts, Lemming didn’t think there would be a spot on varsity for Zabel. But when the team returned from spring break and it was time to do challenge matches where you earn a spot on varsity, Zabel impressed, changing Lemming’s mind for the upcoming season.
The prior tennis experience for Zabel before this was playing pickleball in gym class. Aside from that, she was learning everything from scratch.
“It was a little difficult learning how to place the ball, you know, not really knowing how to hit it at the beginning,” Zabel said.
She’s a quick learner, though she’ll never praise her own ability. She’s a humble, quiet, yet competitive athlete.
Zabel’s pairing with Mensendiek has been huge for her development over the season so far. Mensendiek is a senior, and Lemming called her a tremendous leader for not only Zabel but for the team.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Zabel said on teaming with Mensendiek. “She has been super helpful and supportive and patient.”
At No. 2 doubles, the tandem has picked up two wins so far this season. They are coming off an impressive win Saturday against Jennings County’s Hannah Green and Cassidy Mull. It was a match in which on paper, Zabel and Mensendiek weren’t supposed to win.
They dropped the first set 3-6, but they battled back and took the next two sets 6-2, 6-3 to get the victory.
“We were getting them a little down,” Zabel said. “And we were a little bit more consistent.”
As a setter in volleyball, Zabel believes that has helped her adjust to doubles, where you need to have good chemistry with your partner. Zabel’s instinctual ability to play at the net in tennis makes up for all of the “kills” she doesn’t get in volleyball since she’s the setter.
Even though volleyball is still Zabel’s top sport of choice, she’s fully committed to the tennis season right now.
“I haven’t a lot recently,” Zabel said on if she has trained for volleyball. “I’ve been focusing on this for now.”
She hopes to land a spot on varsity in the fall for volleyball, and after her experiences this spring, she still wants to play tennis in the future.
As only a freshman, Zabel will be double the trouble for her opponents on the court year-round for the coming seasons.