Dennis Silva II | VYPE Media
Charlize Wilson needed a break. Badly.
A tennis savant since four years old, Wilson found herself burnt out from the game entering the seventh grade. The pressures of an individual sport were becoming too much to handle. She was traveling often, always alone. She was playing high-level competition, any and all expectations clinging on to her tiny shoulders.
It was an intense, physically and emotionally draining environment with no one else to share the ups and downs.
So, Wilson quit. For the next two years, she put away her tennis racket and picked up a volleyball.
It was the best thing she could have done at that time.
"It was a relief," said Wilson, now a junior at George Ranch. "I'd played tennis for a long time, and it was nice to experience a team sport like volleyball. In tennis, there's a lot of pressure that's all to yourself. In volleyball, it was more of a team."
Feeling refreshed, Wilson gave tennis another shot and enrolled in coach Alyssa Noonan's summer camp the summer before her freshman year. In Noonan, the George Ranch head tennis coach, Wilson found someone who sympathized with the hardships tennis can present. Like Wilson, Noonan started playing tennis at a young age (6) and was successful as a player.
Wilson eventually tried out for the Longhorns.
"Three weeks later, she was No. 1 on our varsity. As a freshman," Noonan said. "She is just so skilled naturally."
Back on the court again, Wilson found a team at George Ranch that prioritized more than just winning and losing.
Noonan, in her fourth year at the helm of the Longhorns, is big, first and foremost, on character and kindness. She gets it from her mother, an educator who taught her to treat people right and that she represents more than herself.
"My players know their character means way more to me than their tennis skills," Noonan said. "It's very important to me how they're carrying themselves and representing our school and community."
Now any pressure Wilson found herself under came from herself. Her teammates and coach understood there was much more to tennis than the result of a match, and their unconditional love and support were breaths of fresh air.
"I started over again and now I enjoy tennis so much," Wilson said.
Since putting on a Longhorns tennis shirt, Wilson has been the team's best player. Beyond her skills, she displayed a confidence and assuredness that was lacking before, simply because she knew she had people in her corner, awaiting her with a hug or smile, no matter the result of her match.
"In volleyball, I saw people care about me and they encouraged me and believed in me," Wilson said. "I got more confident. Now when I play tennis, I know there's people rooting for me and I'm not all alone."
In a better place mentally, Wilson's already-advanced game has only gotten stronger. Her power and consistency in serving is improved. She's learned to vary serves.
Wilson has a knack for placing the ball in difficult spots, surprising even herself sometimes. She is a natural hitter, almost like a magnet to the ball whenever it approaches her.
"She has a God-given talent for tennis," Noonan said. "Her shots, her movement, her strategy are all unmatched. It's almost innate for her, and it's incredible to get to watch her do what she loves to do."
Wilson wants to play college tennis. There is an undeniable future for her in the sport if she wants.
And she wants it.
"There's a lot of room to improve," she said. "I know I can keep developing new types of shots. Right now, I'm good. But I know I can be better"
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04 Aug, 2021
Photo by Bradley Collier
Seven Lakes senior Casey Batenhorst has enjoyed a storied high school volleyball career so far.
She is an SMU-commit, four-year varsity letterman and a state champion.
Incredibly, however, Batenhorst has accomplished all of this while dealing with Duane syndrome in her left eye. It's an eye movement disorder that causes her to see double when looking to her left.
"I've had it all my life, so I've learned to choose the right one (ball) when I see double," Batenhorst said, laughing. "I've had some complications. It takes a little more effort and focus from me to see the ball completely and get around the ball."
While the disorder doesn't affect her serving, blocking or defense, if Batenhorst is hitting from the right side, it can be difficult to see the ball when looking left. She must take a different approach than normal, more direct toward the ball instead of opening up her right side toward it.
The positive is that Duane syndrome has become the force behind a fearless, competitive drive that belies a friendly, outgoing personality.
"If I can overcome having to see double of the ball, I know I can overcome anything," Batenhorst said. "Any little challenge, I'm up for."
Batenhorst is the last of a remarkable trio of sisters that has dominated for Seven Lakes over the last few years. The oldest sister, Dani, class of 2017, plays at Gonzaga. The middle sister, Ally, was the 2020-21 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year last season and now plays at Nebraska.
It is now Casey's turn.
She averaged 10.2 assists per set in helping the Spartans win Katy ISD's first volleyball state championship in 2020 and is ready for more.
"I'm excited to show diversity and different talents I've acquired, as far as more dumping skills, more blocking, mixing up the offense and being more of a leader," Batenhorst said.
Batenhorst is confident the Spartans have what it takes to repeat. They will look different after graduating three of their top hitters. Seven Lakes will have to mix things up offensively and move hitters around more, which means Batenhorst could see some time as an attacker with the emergence of sophomore setter Simone Romriell.
"People say it's hard to win a championship back-to-back, but we're the team for it," Batenhorst said. "We're all passionate to win it all again. Anything's possible with the group of girls we have now."
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