Matanzas hadn't had a freshman as its No. 1 seed since Dominic Davis in 2012. Now, 14-year-old Natalie Valenteychik is here to stay.
Every time Natalie Valenteychik pictured her future, she saw herself dancing. Jazz, tap, ballet — any kind of dancing, really. When the sun would sink and the moon would rise, sweet dreams of gliding across a Broadway stage would carry her off to sleep. Dancing: it was her past, her present, her future.
“It was something I thought I’d do for my entire life,” she said.
Until, one day, it wasn’t.
As quick as a shimmy, seven years of dancing were over. Broadway vanished, instead replaced by a new dream — one that at first was not her own, one that took years for her to fully accept and pursue.
Valenteychik vividly remembers how it all started, even though she was just 9 years old at the time. Two Englishmen, tennis coaches by trade, dropped their kids off at Valenteychik’s mother’s daycare. The two men asked her mom, Julia Golikova, if she knew of anyone interested in learning the game. Golikova volunteered her daughter on the spot.
Valenteychik would be the first person the Englishmen would train on American soil. For her, they saw visions of competitiveness, of her becoming a real tournament player. Her parents saw a one-way ticket to a college scholarship.
Valenteychik was excited at the prospects of her new sport — at first. She grew to despise it. She hated getting up early and staying out late to practice. She loathed the hot, scorching sun that beat down on her neck. She wasn’t a stranger to strenuous physical activity. She was a devoted dancer, after all. But she missed the comfort of a cool, air-conditioned dance studio.
Still, her parents and coaches pushed her, and pushed her, and pushed her. And gradually, like a graceful plié, she began to accept her circumstances. She eventually bought in to what people — family, friends, admirers — were telling her: that she had a natural, God-given talent.
“I had people telling me that I was really good at it,” Valenteychik said. “So I just kept going with it.”
After five years of sweat, dirt and tears, Valenteychik is starting to see the fruits of her labor. She’s ranked within the top 100 in the 14-and-under age group in the state of Florida. In addition, when she joined the tennis team at Matanzas High School, she became the first Pirates freshman to become a No. 1 seed since Dominic Davis in 2012.
Davis’ mother, current Pirates coach Tracey Hicks, sees some similarities between the two.
“She’s a tournament-ready player,” Hicks said of Valenteychik. “You don’t get too many like that in this area.”
She added: “It’s just what her interest is. Tennis is what she wants to do, and I think she could be great if she continues to stay with it.”
Davis said she wished she could have seen Davis and Valenteychik battle it out on the court. But when asked to pick the winner of the metaphorical matchup, Hicks paused to collect her thoughts.
Then, she answered.
“I think it would be a great match.”