Erin Stitzlein and Kate Rodhe may be ferocious competitors on the court, but off of it and even at times on it they are simply a couple of fun-loving West Holmes Lady Knights seniors enjoying the best time of their life.
That best time includes a trip to the Div. II state tennis tournament, where they will combine their talent to take on the state’s finest doubles teams in Cincinnati.
The season has been a monumental success for the Lady Knights, and the two best friends are a big part of that. Stitzlein patrolled the first singles court this year and held her own against every other team’s top player. Rodhe was dominant at third singles, where she left more than a few opponents wondering why they even stepped on the court.
But they opted to join forces for the tournament and with plenty of doubles experience easily made the transition. Their play earned them a sectional title, and they placed runner-up at districts, leaving them with a number two seed in the state tournament.
“That was an easy decision,” Stitzlein said of teaming up with Rodhe. “That was something we knew we would do from the beginning of the year.”
When the time comes to focus their attention on tennis, they will dig in and provide ample competition at state.
However, the two also will take every opportunity to get under the skin of their coach, Jason Otto. The duo’s care-free, fun-loving attitude carries over to their play, and they enjoy their court time together, but they also make irritating Otto, in a kidding way of course, a priority.
Because the drive to Cincinnati will take several hours, they know they will have plenty of chances to drive their coach nuts.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Rodhe said with a laugh.
Not with these two, who are both serious battles on the court but jokers off of it. But the fun-loving spirit of the duo does nothing to diminish the fighting spirit of all they have accomplished through their hard work on the court.
“I am proud of how far I’ve come and the accomplishments I have achieved,” Rodhe said. “I’ve come a long way since my freshman year. I was really weak and hadn’t played before.”
Rodhe actually played boys tennis her freshman season, having played volleyball in the fall. But once she switched to tennis full-time, the practice paid off, and she began improving rapidly.
Rodhe made it to state last year in doubles, teaming up with Natalie Molnar, but she isn’t the first Rodhe family member to find a way to state. Her brother Andrew teamed up with Ethan Meyer to go to state for the Knights.
“I think because Andrew got into tennis, I did too,” Rodhe said. “Once I tried it, I really started to like it. When he got to state, I knew I had to do it too because we are kind of competitive that way. Now I am going twice, so that puts me up on him.”
While Rodhe has been to state before, she said the nerves will still be there because she understands that every single match is different than the last, and that every match could be their last.
At least she gets to go into the pressure cooker that is the state tournament with her best friend at her side.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to finish my career than with Erin right there with me,” Rodhe said.
Stitzlein missed qualifying for state in the district play-in match last year. She said she was determined not to let that happen again in her final go-around.
“It was really disappointing last year to get that close and not make it, so that was definitely a big motivation for me coming into this season,” Stitzlein said. “It has been my goal all year.”
With a team loaded with seniors including second doubles player Sabryn Cutlip and hard-hitting Samara Galion and a host of other talented players, Stitzlein said she knew this season was going to be special. West Holmes lost just three matches all season, and now the frosting on the cake will be a state appearance for the best friends.
“It has been an unbelievable year,” Stitzlein said. “Since this is my last tennis experience, I just want to enjoy this experience and soak it all in. I don’t think I would change a thing, other than maybe winning districts. I don’t mind the loss, but the disappointing part was we didn’t play very well, and that bothers me.”
The goal now will be to go to state, stay focused and work hard to win every point they can. How far they go will not determine the joy they have had in making their way to the pinnacle of the sport.
To do it together makes it all that much more special.
“I can’t imagine a better way to end my career than playing at state with my best friend,” Stitzlein said. “Getting to play together is the best part about this.”