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Risk-Taking Pooler in Rush to Succeed for Dana Hills

Girls' tennis: Sophomore's net-charging style sets her apart from her peers, and should help make Dolphins Southern Section title contenders.

September 05, 2000|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It will be easy to spot Kady Pooler this year. Not by the way she looks, but the way she plays.

Pooler, a 14-year-old sophomore at Dana Hills, is playing a game most of her peers are not familiar with--serve-and-volley tennis. The style was adopted by the great Martina Navratilova and is being partly embraced by Venus and Serena Williams, but it is rarely copied by junior girls' players or women professionals.

Pooler's serve-and-volley game is a work in progress. Her serve could use a little more velocity and consistency. Her volleys could be sharper and more precise, and her court awareness could be better. But the flashes of brilliance are there and the commitment to an aggressive style of play is steadfast.

While her opponents are banging away from the baseline this fall, the 5-foot-9 Pooler will be charging the net any chance she gets. Pooler knows her trips to the net won't always be successful, but that's the chance she takes.

"I try not to think about the bad things that come along with playing aggressively," she said. "I know I'll probably lose to some players I shouldn't. But I know playing this way will pay off in the long run. Even after a loss, I always feel better because I stuck to my game plan."

Pooler admits she didn't always take such a sensible approach to a tough loss.

"I was a head case," she said. "I couldn't accept missing a shot. It took me awhile to realize I'm not perfect."

Barry Boren, Pooler's private coach for the last six years, said it wasn't easy to convince Pooler that she couldn't make every shot.

"She's got all the shots, a beautiful game, but we've really been working on celebrating the good shots and walking away from the errors," said Boren, head pro at the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club and the Tennis Club at Monarch Beach.

When Pooler isn't taking advice from Boren, she is reading books by Brad Gilbert, a former top-10 pro who is Andre Agassi's coach, and John F. Murray, about the mental game of tennis. Pooler has read Murray's book three times.

"It's really helped me to stay more positive," she said. "I think what you say about yourself is what you are."

It was about five years ago that Boren decided Pooler could become a good net player.

"She was built like a kid that was going to be tall," Boren said. "So I starting grooming her back then. I told her, 'If you come in to the net, you can be an average net player and still stand out. If you stay back, you have to have an exceptional weapon to make it.' "

Boren said it was clear that Pooler was not going to win many matches by pounding away from the baseline.

"She was getting tired of losing the 2 1/2- and three-hour matches," he said. "Now she beats those same players really quickly."

This summer, Pooler made a conscious effort to play her aggressive style, no matter what the consequences. She worked with a trainer at the Laguna Niguel Racquet Club to improve her fitness and her footwork and she stuck to her plan.

The results were mixed.

She lost in the third round of the Southern California Junior Sectional girls' 16 division, to Lauren Perl of San Diego. At the USTA Clay Courts in Virginia Beach, Va., Pooler lost in the second round. But there were some bright spots. At the Quiksilver/Roxy Junior Open at Los Caballeros Racquet Club, Pooler upset a seeded player, Yelena Olshanskaya of Los Angeles, and Elizabeth Exon of Woodbridge. She reached the semifinals before losing to Villa Park's Lindsey Nelson, the top-ranked 16-year-old in Southern California, in three sets.

Pooler, ranked 12th in Southern California in the girls' 16s, will see Nelson again this fall when Dana Hills faces fifth-ranked Villa Park in the nonleague season. The Dolphins, ranked second in the preseason by the Times, also play top-ranked Corona del Mar, third-ranked Woodbridge, fourth-ranked Troy, sixth-ranked University and defending Southern Section Division I champion Palos Verdes Peninsula.

If Pooler has a big sophomore season, she could take Dana Hills further than last year, when the Dolphins lost to Newport Harbor in the Division I semifinals.

Other players to watch this season:

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