Last October, Olivia Rondini found herself in the strangest of circumstances.
The junior had won her first two matches of the Division I State girls tennis tournament in three sets, advancing to the semifinals. There was a light emerging at the end of the championship tunnel during an otherwise fun weekend at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
The only problem was her semifinal match pitted her against Anna Roggenburk, a senior and her teammate at Magnificat for three years. The two were already close friends and had made the three-plus-hour trip together to play in the tournament. Win or lose, they’d be sharing a ride home.
Roggenburk won the match 6-3, 6-1, and put the finishing touches on her second straight State title, the first player in Blue Streaks team history to do so. Rondini rebounded and took third place with a win over Westlake’s Emma Peeler.
“It was a little weird, and I knew the match was going to be tough,” Rondini said. “(Roggenburk’s) a great player and one of my best friends, and playing your teammate’s never fun. We were both being nice to each other, obviously, but we also were laughing at each other on the court. If I made a bad shot she’d laugh at me and I’d see her do it, and then she fell down on one of the points and I laughed back. It was a fun match.”
Despite the Div. I singles bracket forcing them out of their comfort zones for one match, they made the most of it. The next day, the entire team made the trip to Reynoldsburg to play the last two rounds of the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association tournament, where they eventually lost 3-0 to Mason in the finals.
“We had to travel with each other, but it wasn’t a problem at all,” Rondini said. “I knew (Roggenburk) was a better player and I just wanted it to be competitive, and it was a competitive match. I knew she deserved it more that day, and there was no problem with it, plus we had to go to OTCA States the next day, so we had to get over it.”
Roggenburk has since graduated and will play collegiately at Xavier. Now is the time for Rondini, the only incoming senior slated for Magnificat’s 2019 roster and a two-time State participant, to establish herself as one of Ohio’s best.
When the season begins in August, the Euclid native with an aggressive style will be ready.
“I’d love to make it back to State,” Rondini said. “That was so fun (last season), and I’d like to do that again. I came up a little short last year because of Anna, but I’d love to win State if at all possible.”
Rondini will step into the first singles role once inhabited by Roggenburk and shoot for personal glory as the school’s third consecutive State champion, but there are also high team standards on her mind. The Blue Streaks have won the team title three times since 2007, including Rondini’s freshman year in 2016. They were runners-up each of the last two seasons, no small feat considering the depth of talented rosters all over the state.
She feels the team’s OTCA semifinal match, a gutsy 3-2 win over Olentangy Orange, was where the team fully jelled. With sophomores Kayra Koprulu, Alexis Ospelt and Audrey Smitek returning, the hope is that the team will be closer as it pushes to maintain its status as one of the best in Ohio.
During the regular season, the Blue Streaks were 19-4 in head-to-head competition and pitched 12 5-0 shutouts. They won the Lexington Invite and finished second in the Canfield Doubles Tournament along the way. Individually, Rondini was 24-6.
“Last year we were close, but I think we can be closer,” Rondini said. “But we all came together, especially in that semifinal match (at OTCAs). We almost lost, and it was a very long match and we all came together and started acting as one team…I think we’ll be good this year (skill-wise).”
Rondini is listed as a top-20 recruit in the state according to tennisrecruiting.net and would love to play at the college level and follow in the footsteps of former teammates Roggenburk and Alexandra Vesikallio (Villanova). Thanks to seven years of practice at the Cleveland Racquet Club in Pepper Pike, where she has spent countless hours training under personal coach Chase Thomas, and a busy United States Tennis Association tournament schedule, she has built herself into a dynamic player who can make any shot, but specializes in outworking opponents at the net.
“My net game is my strongest point right now,” she said. “I like to be very aggressive; I don’t like to stay at the baseline. I used to play volleyball, so I’m very good up there and I can jump.”
Rondini, who also teaches tennis to area youth at the Mayfield Country Club and at a camp at Gates Mills Hawken throughout the week, is an all-around athlete. In addition to her volleyball experience, she participated in track as a freshman thrower before a hand injury forced her out of action. She returned to it this spring as a way to stay in shape and bond with friends.
Tennis has remained her first athletic love, as demonstrated by the nearly 10 hours a day she spends on a court during the average summer week, not to mention USTA events. This month alone, she has played in three tournaments that have taken her to Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee, all in an effort to improve on a game that is already State-worthy.
The court has been her home since she was a 5-year-old, throwing tantrums in hopes that her mother, Donna, would bring her along to wherever she would play at the time. And she still feels nervous before a big match, although her mental game is catching up to her physicality.
“It’s a very mental sport,” she said. “So I guess one of my biggest things I had to learn was to be able to calm myself down and not get too worked up about losing points or anything like that, just letting things go…I’d say the mental part is more difficult for me, personally, than the physical part, because you can always lose weight and get faster, but it takes a lot longer for your mentality to get to where the physical part is.”
A player, instructor and someone to be reckoned with in Division I, Rondini is looking forward to her senior season. But she’s also interested in seeing how the younger Blue Streaks develop around her. Her time is now, but their time is coming.
“I’m excited just to meet the younger kids coming in and see how much better they get throughout the year,” she said.
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