by Zane Gard, Sounding Board Staff Writer
It seems that athletes do not choose to play at Grace College. They are simply sent here. The most accomplished player in women’s tennis history was no exception.
With a career record of 48-8, Jessica Stolle holds numerous Grace tennis records. She holds the top singles season record, top singles career record, highest win percentage for a season, and highest win percentage for a career, not to mention numerous second-place records for doubles. While holding these accomplishments place Stolle in a category of her own, none of the records would exist had it not been for Kara Jackson.
Yes, Grace’s best women’s tennis player ever is here not because of a coach, but because of an old friend. Jackson, who currently plays tennis at Lipscomb University, was a friend of Stolle in high school. Stolle was looking to attend nearby Cedarville University while Jackson was about to visit Grace College for a potential tennis scholarship. Jackson convinced Stolle to come along with her and visit. “It’s cool to see how God worked it out,” Stolle said. “Coach looked at her, and she didn’t go. He didn’t look at me, and I did.”
After feeling more at home than at Cedarville, Stolle committed to play tennis at Grace. “It is a testimony of God’s providence,” said women’s head coach Deron Datzman. “I had no idea about Jessica, but when I saw her I knew she would be an excellent fit with our program.”
That is only the beginning of Stolle’s story. Coming in as a freshman, scared and not knowing what to expect at the collegiate level, Stolle had no idea that she would play at the No. 1 singles spot. Knowing she did not anticipate that, she certainly could not have foreseen having the first undefeated season in Grace’s history and winning the MCC tournament in singles.
Over her next three seasons, Stolle compiled records of 10-2, 11-4 and 11-1 with her fan base right there with her. Her parents, who reside in Ohio, drove to all of her games. Home or away. Rain or shine. Despite the three-hour drive, Stolle says her father has never missed one of her matches and credits her family for helping her through tough matches.
Simply put, Stolle is different—just like her tennis career. Her success too often goes unnoticed by most because a casual conversation would not reveal she is one of the top athletes at Grace. (In fact, there is no virtual chatting with Stolle, because she does not have a Facebook.)
She relies on her mental toughness and patience to win rather than power. According to Datzman, she possesses a “strong will to win that’s not in every tennis player.” She maintains a low-profile to focus on academics (a science major who is looking to go to school for physical therapy training). She is involved with a Grace Serve team (a highlight being playing bingo at Grace Village). And she is undoubtedly humble.
“I’m not one to talk about myself,” Stolle explained. “It has been such a blessing, and it’s just because of God.”
Before Stolle’s arrival, the Lady Lancers had a record of 6-5. That quickly changed. During Stolle’s sophomore and junior seasons, the team had its first two double-digit win seasons. This year also marked the team’s fifth winning record in a row. “Jessica put Grace College on the map and took the program to a new level,” Datzman said. “When you have such a solid number-one it helps our team at winning matches.”
When Stolle came from behind to win her singles match in the MCC tournament on Oct. 8, it was a fitting end to an outstanding career — epitomizing her work ethic and fighting through adversity. After losing the first set, Stolle won the second set and forced a tiebreaker. After falling behind 4-7, Stolle battled back and won 10-7 to win her final collegiate tennis match.
Her storied career has left its mark on Grace athletics and has set the bar high for future tennis players. “I will remember her never giving up, no matter what,” Datzman said. “No one has excelled in the tennis program as much as Jessica has.”
This article was published in the Nov. 5 Homecoming Edition of The Sounding Board, Grace College’s student newspaper.