State College tennis stars Kelly Vanden and Owen Lloyd trained together since they were 10 years old at Penn State’s facility and, in high school, attended each other’s matches to offer support. Vanden said the two have “become family” over the years.
So it was fitting, really, that Vanden and Lloyd stood side by side on Tuesday night at State College’s sports banquet to be honored as the school’s Snyder Award winners.
“It just felt great to be recognized like that in front of all my peers, especially with Owen,” Vanden said. “We’ve played tennis together for as long as I can remember. For him to be alongside me getting that award was absolutely fantastic. It was a great moment.”
Added Lloyd: “It means a lot. ... It’s great to be recognized.”
The James H. Snyder Awards are given in memory of Snyder, a former CDT sports editor who was killed in an automobile crash in December of 1957. The awards have become an annual county staple celebrating the community’s young leaders — a pair of seniors from each of the six county schools who embrace academics, athletics and community service.
That made Lloyd and Vanden natural choices for the longtime award. Their high school careers paralleled each other, built on hard work on and off the tennis court.
Academically, both Lloyd and Vanden were members of State College’s National Honors Society. Lloyd — a National Merit finalist, meaning his PSAT score was in the 99th percentile — was an officer for the math club, physics club and Model U.N. Vanden, also a member of the National Technical Honors Society, maintained an A-average in her “all-AP course load” as a senior.
In terms of community service, Vanden was a volunteer at Mount Nittany Medical Center for the past three years. She recently reached 200 hours of service, earning a scholarship from the hospital. Lloyd helped organize the National Honors Society’s annual Bunny Hop, a fundraiser for the Four Diamonds Fund. He also went on a mission trip with his State College Presbyterian Church youth group to Baltimore, where he aided food insecure communities.
And of course, the two starred on the tennis court. But not without overcoming challenges.
Lloyd — the first player in District 6 history to win four consecutive doubles championships — was told two days before the district tournament as a freshman that he was switching partners. “I was not prepared,” Lloyd said with a laugh. “At last minute, it had to be changed, and they were like, ‘OK, you’re going to play with Matt (Wherley) now.’ ... And we had never played doubles before. But we figured out to play together over the course of two days.”
Lloyd and Wherley won the title and did so again in Lloyd’s sophomore year. As a junior, Lloyd linked up with freshman Drew Cagle, who became his title-winning partner in 2018 and 2019. On May 2, Lloyd and Cagle beat Altoona’s duo of Jonah Brandt and Casey Rispoli 6-1, 6-0 in the doubles championship. Five days later, Lloyd topped Brandt in singles to help State College to a District 6 team title.
“We blew through the competition,” Lloyd said. “It felt great.”
Vanden had that feeling this year, too.
After falling short of earning a District 6 crown in the previous three seasons, the senior ended her career with a district doubles championship, taking down Hollidaysburg with partner Catelyn Janac. Vanden also excelled in singles, securing State College’s No. 1 spot as a freshman and maintaining that status through her senior campaign.
“I held it from the get-go,” Vanden said. “I’ve been playing tennis since I was three years old, and I played competitively in tournaments my entire life. I came into the team as a really strong player.”
It showed. Vanden lost only two regular-season singles matches over her four years, including undefeated seasons as a sophomore and senior. In the postseason, she was a District 6 singles runner-up twice.
Vanden is hoping to extend her tennis career with the club team at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she’ll study biology and possibly double major in neurology. Lloyd plans to play tennis with Penn State’s club team while studying math and economics at Schreyer Honors College.
As the Snyder Award winners move on from State College, Lloyd and Vanden acknowledge they learned a lot over the past four years — not just about themselves, but about each other.
“Kelly was calm, cool and collected,” Lloyd said. “It’s that ability to be extremely respectful on the court and as a person in school. It was that kind of energy.”
Added Vanden: “He puts it all out there, and that’s great to see how passionate he is about the game. ... We’ve always been competitors on the tennis court and friends outside, too.”