Olivia Sneed walks into East on the first day of freshman year wearing high-waisted shorts and a Polo t-shirt. She’s worried about what to wear, since she doesn’t have anyone to ask what was or wasn’t cool at East. She’s scared, because she’s never been to a school this big.
But when she walks onto a tennis court, it’s the exact opposite. She feels confident in her skirt and Dri-Fit tank top. She knows exactly what to wear. She feels comfortable. It’s where she belongs.
Sneed started playing tennis when she was 5 years old. At the time she was living in Wellington, Kan., a small town outside of Wichita. In Wellington, Sneed’s class size was about 100 students. East’s average class size is over 450.
She started out playing just for fun, but when she was about 12, she started to notice she had a talent. She would easily win small tournaments, so she began to move up to higher United States Tennis Association (USTA) Missouri Valley tournaments. With more tournaments came more practice, so at age 12 Sneed started to travel to Wichita five days a week to train at Wichita Country Club.
When playing in Missouri Valley tournaments, Sneed met Eric Rand. Rand owns and directs Kansas City United Tennis (KCUT), a premier college prep tennis academy three hours from where Sneed was currently training.
Sneed suggested to her parents that she move to Kansas City before her freshman year.
“I really liked the academy up here,” she said. “And school-wise it’s a lot better.”
Sneed’s mom was on board right away, but her dad wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t going to be able to move for the first couple of months. However, after much convincing he gave in. Sneed and her mom moved to Prairie Village in time for freshman year, and lived in apartments across the street from East. Sneed’s dad was able to join them shortly after.
Now, as a junior, Sneed has yet to step on a tennis court sporting a lancer uniform. For the past two years, her coaches have hosted a pro-tournament right in the middle of the season. They saw it as a better opportunity for Sneed rather than playing high school tennis. However, next year Sneed finally has permission to play alongside her classmates.
“I am so excited,” Sneed said. “[I’m looking forward to] just being apart of the team.”
Currently, Sneed plays in USTA national tournaments and International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments. With her national success, Sneed has become a Bluechip recruit. Bluechip Athletic Solutions is a program that optimizes the college and professional athletic recruiting process. Sneed is ranked no. 7 by Tennis Recruiting Network’s list of junior girls. This ranking is based on a tennis player’s winning record and the strength of tournaments they’ve played in and the opponents played in those tournaments. Sneed is also ranked no. 1 by Tennis Recruiting Network in Kansas, no. 2 in the Plains region and no. 21 in the nation. These lists are updated every week.
Now that she’s a junior, Sneed has received countless letters in the mail from various colleges. At the beginning of this year, she sent out emails to 25 different schools and they have all responded to her. As of right now, she is keeping her options open and has no plan of committing to a school yet.
Sneed spends a majority of her time playing tennis. She practices every weekday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Because of this she leaves school everyday after fifth hour.
“I only have one elective, which is art,” she said, “So it kinda sucks but it’s okay”
Her coach lets her have Fridays off, and then she trains for an hour or two on Saturdays and Sundays. She also has to play tournaments over the weekends which usually involves traveling.
She spends a lot of the summer and the start of the school year traveling. Although she says her tournament schedule has calmed down, she still has to miss school to play. This year she is lucky because all of her teachers are understanding. At the beginning of each year, Sneed’s parents warn them about the amount of school she will be missing. In first quarter alone, Sneed has missed two full weeks.
Not only does Sneed miss out on school when she’s traveling, but she also loses time to spend with friends. She quickly made friends after moving here, and she says they are all understanding of what she does.
“It’s hard being her friend because she is so committed to tennis,” junior Caroline Breckenridge said. “But she always makes time for her family and friends. And we all know that it will pay off in the end!”
Sneed looks up to former KCUT player Ross Guignon, who Sneed says has been a tennis role model and a friend to her ever since she moved here. Guignon graduated from East in 2011 and now plays for the University of Illinois. Last year they won the Big 10 tennis championship.
“Olivia’s a very talented player,” Guignon said. “She’s a great competitor and it’s exciting that she still has so much room for growth. I think one day she still hopes to beat me. She’s a great person as well. She’s incredibly nice and she’s really fun to be around.”