WESTERVILLE, Ohio – Throughout the last three-plus years of Otterbein University athletics, dominance has carried a racket and worn a visor. It has quietly, yet confidently, maneuvered the course of competition and come out nearly unscathed. To Otterbein, dominance has come in the form of senior women’s tennis player Julie Stroyne, a senior from Venetia.
“In my 18 years, she is certainly the best player that I have seen come through the Ohio Athletic Conference,” Otterbein coach Pat Anderson said.
A nursing major, Stroyne has a career singles record of 55-6, with all but one outing coming at the No. 1 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup. She went 22-0 last year, losing just one set in the process.
Stroyne already has three OAC Player of the Year awards in her trophy case and, if a fourth one is earned later this spring, then she will become the only athlete in the history of the conference, regardless of sport, to be named Player of the Year four times.
“I honestly didn’t realize what I could accomplish when I came in as a freshman,” said Stroyne, who also has a 52-10 career doubles record. “It’s pretty tough right now to try and look back and wrap my head around everything I’ve done. I’m just focused on having fun every day with my teammates and coaches.”
Stroyne has become one of the more pleasant surprises in school history, considering she was never recruited by Otterbein in the first place.
At Peters Township, Stroyne helped the Indians win PIAA Class AAA team titles in 2006 and 2009. She was the No. 2 singles player in 2006 behind current professional Alison Riske. In 2009, Stroyne was the No. 1 singles player and teamed with Caroline Nixon to win the state doubles title.
“I knew that if I attended a Division I school, I would ultimately have to quit tennis at some point to focus on my nursing clinical,” Stroyne said. “The main goal was to make sure I could play tennis all four years, so Division II or III was the way to go.”
Life can work in funny ways, as it did in this instance when a family friend of the Stroyne’s competed in a soccer tournament held at Otterbein four years ago. The family was so impressed with the campus that they suggested Stroyne take a look at Otterbein.
“Julie’s father called me up and kind of pitched her to me,” Anderson said with a slight chuckle. “He said, ‘I’m not sure if you want my daughter, but she’s had a pretty good high school career and was a four-time state qualifier.’ Here I am on the other end of the phone trying to keep it together and not come off overly excited. It ended up being a great fit for both sides.”
Stroyne has emerged into a bundle of success, but the best part of her story is nobody would know of her accomplishments from the way she speaks and carries herself. In a society where athletes beat their chest, use a special handshake or compare themselves to others while celebrating victory has become the norm, Stroyne represents a breath of fresh air. She has never felt the need to boast and becomes slightly embarrassed when someone wants to mention her success.
“I’m definitely a little on the shy and reserved side,” Stroyne said. “I prefer to just lead by example rather than talking loud or yelling.”
“I’ve always admired the way she treats all of her teammates,” Anderson added. “Sometimes, when you have a standout player, they can become picky with what they do in practice and who they do it with. She is a class act and has remained so unpretentious since her arrival.”
Stroyne progressed from a quiet freshman to a leader and jokester with her coaches and teammates, all the while maintaining their highest level of respect.
“Even though tennis is very individualistic, Julie always acts on what is best for the team’s success,” said doubles partner Sammi Kruger. “Something I find very special about Julie is that, despite being our best player, she treats each of her teammates with the same respect. It’s not uncommon for the stronger player of a doubles team to take control of a match, but Julie has always made every effort to help better me as a player. Everyone who has the opportunity to get to know her is very fortunate.”
Stroyne’s humble personality is one to admire, but don’t mistake her kindness as a weakness. When asked to describe her tennis game, Stroyne immediately tossed out the word “aggressive.”
“I love my forehand and I don’t like to stay in the point too long,” she explained. “I like to get it over with and just keep moving forward.”
Her doubles partner couldn’t agree more, noting that Stroyne holds an even balance between the mental and physical aspects of the game.
“I have seen a lot of players who are extremely skilled, but their talent limits them because they are not able to master the mental game,” Kruger said. “Julie gets it. She knows what shot to hit, where to place it, which shot to hit next and the footwork needed to complete all of those actions. Not only does she understand what needs to be done, but she believes in her ability to do so. In all of my years playing sports, I have never seen anyone with a better balance of confidence and humbleness than Julie.”
As dominant as Stroyne is on the court, she has achieved an equal amount of success off it. At Otterbein, dominance also carries a stethoscope and wears scrubs. Stroyne has held her own in a very demanding nursing major, most notably this final year by becoming accustomed to working a 12-hour clinical – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. – followed by evening tennis practice.
“It’s been a challenge, but Coach Anderson and my professors are always accommodating and easy to work with,” Stroyne said. “I have played this game since I was a young girl and it’s something I have always had to balance with other responsibilities.”
Stroyne plans to graduate this spring, with honors, before finding a job in the intensive care unit of a hospital. In the meantime, she remains focused on helping her team work toward the goal of overtaking Ohio Northern for the league championship and making the NCAA tournament. Individually, she is trying to build from a top-16 finish in the fall at the USTA/ITA Central Region Championships, a field that consisted of 128 players.
Tennis is a sport that doesn’t draw the largest crowds and can often be overlooked because of the popularity of others, but don’t forget where Otterbein’s dominance will reside throughout the spring. It continues to rest within a reserved, yet confident, class act from Pennsylvania who appears poised to make one final curtain call.
Adam Prescott is assistant sports information director at Otterbein College.