Nelson out to defend her state tennis title

By KEVIN LYNCH Staff Writer Published:

When Lisa Cline was tearing up the hardwood for West Holmes, she had it.

The same is true for Colt Sponseller as he pummeled and pounded his way to three straight state championships while wrestling for the Knights. He, too, had it.

Today, Rachel Nelson has it.

The reigning Div. II state tennis champion, three-time All-Ohioan and four-time state qualifier will use 'it' to her advantage as she tries to defend her title Friday morning at The Ohio State University's Outdoor Varsity Courts and Saturday's final rounds at Hilliard Davidson High School.

'It' is the combination of God-given talent, an incredible desire to improve, a passion to win, a work ethic like no other and a great disdain for losing. All these traits define Rachel Nelson, the soft-spoken senior of the Knights who lets her tennis racket do the talking for her.

"She is such a competitor, she doesn't like to lose," West Holmes coach Jason Otto said. "She plays better when she plays better players. She has natural ability and she knows how to use it. She plays so determined."

Her coach was worried how Nelson would do at the Ohio University Eastern District tournament last week because she hadn't been challenged all season.

No worries, coach. All Nelson did was go out and play her best match of the year in steamrolling All-Ohioan Mollie Miller of Portsmouth 6-0, 6-2 in to earn the top seed for her fourth state berth.

"The last two years, they went three sets," Otto said. "That was probably one of the best matches she ever played. In our minds, there are five or six girls who could possible win state and Mollie was one of them. To dominate her like that was just unbelievable."

Nelson won her first two matches at districts 6-1, 6-0 to earn the state berth, then copped a No. 1 seed by besting Miller, the Southeast District's top seed in the finals.

"I played really well that day," Nelson understated. "The past two years I played the same girl and we went three sets both times. I was just really on that day and really focussed."

Otto admits there isn't much coaching to be done with Nelson, but his job is more just keeping her focussed on the ultimate goal.

Nelson seems unfazed by the pressure of playing at such a high level.

"Rachel has a great attitude. Her approach is how it should be," Otto said. "She only worries about herself and her own game and takes on one opponent at a time."

She doesn't plan on changing her strategy as she heads into the opening round of the state tournament against sophomore Adrian Young of Pepper Pike Orange.

"I'm planning on going out and playing how I normally play," Nelson said. "It's just another tournament and I have to focus on each match. I can't let the nerves get to me. I'm good at hiding my emotions. Usually, I get more nervous when I'm off the court than when I'm on it. Once I get on the court, I just do what comes natural and relax and have fun with it.

"They're all good players down there at the state tournament," she continued. "There are a ton of good players, especially coming out of Columbus and Cincinnati. I've played some of the girls from Columbus, but I've yet to play the Cincinnati girls. You can't worry about who you're playing. You've got to play them anyway."

Nelson calls herself a baseliner, utilizing her ground strokes to her advantage.

"My ground strokes are definitely my strong suit," Nelson said. "I'm more of a baseline player than I am a net player. I have deep shots and I like to move my opponents around a lot. If I run into someone who can handle my ground strokes, I just have to think on my feet and switch things around and see what gives them problems.

"You have to put in the time and the extra effort to get where you need to be," she added. "But you can't think too much about it or it will completely overtake everything."

Tennis has taken her far. She is fielding scholarship offers from several schools.

Nelson plans to continue her tennis career at the next level. She has narrowed her college choices down to four options: James Madison University, New Mexico, Montana and Gonzaga.

"I hope to have made up my mind by next month," she said. "I still have one more visit to go."

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