A torn ACL is slowing her down for now, but tennis star Nelle Youel is already looking ahead to the future.
The Crystal Lake resident, who is currently ranked among the top 10 junior players in Illinois, has just signed a letter of intent to join the women’s team at Northern Illinois University.
“I wanted to be close to where I live and not have it be a huge trip for my parents to come visit,” said Youel, who is currently a senior at . “I really liked the coach there and the team overall, so it just seemed like it would be a good fit.”
Youel is far from your typical tennis prototype. Introduced to the sport at the age of 9, she was a competitive gymnast before then and competed in events throughout the state.
“I was practicing gymnastics 16 hours a week even at that age, so I was pretty much over it at that point,” said Youel.
Learning from that experience, Youel has made it a point to diversify her sports interests by playing on the Crystal Lake Central basketball team in the winter and soccer team in the summer, limiting her tennis practice almost exclusively to the summer and fall.
Even with limited practice, Youel helped her high school team go undefeated in their conference last year, and reached the quarterfinals on her own in the state championships.
Youel said the national junior tournaments she plays prior to the high school season have been essential in putting her in top form once the fall season starts.
“It’s overwhelming at first because I practice so much less than some of the girls at these tournaments in comparison, but I’ll go out there and stay right along with them,” said Youel. “By the end of the summer, I feel like I can hit with anyone.”
Youel attributes her tennis success to her father, who has served as her primary coach from the beginning on the courts at Crystal Lake Central, which she lives across the street from. Despite the potential for tension with a parent coaching her, Youel said the on-court relationship has gone relatively smoothly.
“I’ll have three workouts in one day during the peak summer heat, and there are times where I just go, ‘Enough!'” said a laughing Youel. “We’re comfortable together though and it’s easy to work with him because he knows me better than anyone else, and will be there whether I win or lose.”
Youel was in the middle of basketball season this year when an ACL injury took her out of commission. She underwent surgery late last week and will be out of action for soccer season, but said she expects to be able to suit up for the fall tennis pre-season at Northern Illinois.
“I’ll be towards the end of my recovery in August, but the main season is in the spring,” said Youel. “There’s a small season in the fall, but it’s all warm-up matches, so I’m going to start low and work my way into it.”
With the opportunity to play as much tennis as she wants for the first time in her life, Youel said she is looking forward to seeing how far her game can progress in college.
“I’ve never been a year-round player, so it’s definitely exciting for me,” said Youel. “I’m hoping to make some big strides.”