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Next up for Charger: high school season

Shorecrest star Kelly Nelson keeps a busy schedule and often can be found on a tennis court.

For Kelly Nelson, tennis is a year-round activity.

Hardly a day goes by when Nelson isn't either playing in a national tournament, competing for her high school team, Shorecrest, or practicing at the Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club.

Although just a sophomore, Nelson has set high goals.

"I want to keep rising up the ranks (of the junior circuit)," said Nelson, who is currently ranked 10th in the state under-16s. "And in the high school season, I want to do better than last year and help our team win states."

Last season, Nelson advanced to the state tournament in her freshman year as an individual qualifier. She lost to Tampa Prep's Arasu Saras in the semifinals 4-6, 6-2, 6-0. Since then, she has kept up a hectic pace of tournament tennis during the summer and fall.

Her biggest trip came in January, when she participated in the Copper Bowl Junior Tennis Championships in Tucson, Ariz. It was Nelson's first national tournament in the under-16 age group, and she advanced to the round of 16 before losing.

Other major events during the summer included a fourth-round finish at the U.S. Tennis Association National Clay Court Championships and a No. 1 seeding in the USTA Zone Team Championships. Nelson also advanced to the round of 16 at the Bush Florida Open Championships.

Now that the high school season is here, Nelson isn't taking a break. She plans on improving her game even more.

"I've still got to work on my serve and baseline play," she said. "I want to be able to hit the ball deeper."

Maria Cercone, the tennis director at Bardmoor and Nelson's coach for the past five years, said Nelson has improved every year.

"I've seen her play since she was a little thing," said Cercone, whose daughter, Nicole, plays for Seminole. "She gets better and better. She's a very hard worker. She does whatever she can to improve."

Nelson always has been able to get advice at home. Her brother, Kyle, was a Class 3A individual state champion for Canterbury last year.

"We'd always hit the ball around together," Nelson said. "We never played each other, but he was always there to help me."

Nelson will have plenty of competition this year. Her teammate, Sydnie Zillig, practices with her at Bardmoor, as does Nicole Cercone and Canterbury's Natalie Tirapelli.

Once the high school season starts, Nelson's main goal is to win the state title. This year's district tournament is the same week of the prestigious Easter Bowl, an elite tournament for the best players in the state. Nelson has no doubt where she'll be that week.

"I'm going to play districts," she said. "I don't want to let my team down."

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