It has been five years since senior Jennifer Kellner visited Notre Dame as a prospective tennis player, and she has now reached the apex of her career as an Irish student-athlete. Though her time at Notre Dame has not been empty of trials and tribulations, she will be quick to tell you that it has brought so many positive things into her life.
When Kellner, a native New Yorker from Long Island, arrived at Notre Dame, she was already a veteran tennis player. When asked about the beginning of her career, she embraces the fact that she has dedicated most of her life thus far to it.
“I have been playing pretty much my whole life,” Kellner recalls. “When people ask me, I’m not exactly sure—I probably picked up a racquet when I was in first grade.”
Kellner says her tennis career began because of family influence, but continued because of her newfound love the sport.
“My mom played at Fordham,” she explains. “She didn’t play as much after, but there were free lessons at the park near us, so she decided to take us. At first, I remember when I was really little I started playing a lot and then stopped for a while because I didn’t like it anymore. Then I realized I had to go to tennis anyways because my sister played, so I decided I’d rather play than then sit there. I’ve pretty much been playing ever since.”
Kellner knew that Notre Dame was the place she wanted to bring her talents and spend the next four years the moment she set foot on campus.
“I came on an unofficial visit when I was a junior, and I really liked the atmosphere,” Kellner says. “I met the team and really loved all the girls. The coach seemed great. It just seemed like a good fit for me and it all really worked out.”
On the flip side of her demanding role as a varsity athlete, Kellner enjoys her time as a student just as much. Notre Dame has allowed her to build relationships with her teammates, but also with her classmates, making her feel like an integral part of the University.
Kellner manages a balancing act between her athletic and her academic lives so successfully that she was named not once, but twice to the All-BIG EAST team in consecutive years. She then additionally earned a BIG-EAST Scholar-Athlete Sport of Excellence Award. When discussing the achievement, she modestly credits the unyielding support the University and her peers provide her.
“My coach told me at the end of last year, and I do know it’s an honor. I take pride in being able to keep up with schoolwork and excel in that while also putting so many hours in on the court,” Kellner says. “It’s nice to know that when you do something, it pays off in the end.”
Being a student at Notre Dame is no walk in the park, especially when you add the pressures of being a varsity athlete at a school which also prides itself on a strong athletic programs. The rigor of Notre Dame makes Kellner’s feats all the more impressive. But her success hasn’t been without challenges.
“A lot of times I don’t start my homework until 9 p.m., and I literally can’t until then,” she explains. “My best friend works at the math library, so we always study there. She can stay there for as long as she wants, so whenever she closes, I just leave.”
Late nights and assignment-filled days are just a part of the deal for this tennis court achiever, making time management and personal responsibility more important than ever before.
“My parents emphasized academics, but not to an extreme. They don’t push it too much. I guess it’s just an internal things, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, which is both good and bad,” Kellner admits. “ My coaches definitely emphasized schoolwork, which is also something that doesn’t happen a lot in college athletics, so that is nice.”
Now as a senior, Kellner is trying to pass on her habits and triumphs on to her younger teammates. In three years, she has transformed from a novice freshman player into one of the veteran members of the team, a change that took even Kellner by surprise.
“I guess it’s weird how it all happens and you don’t realize it,” Kellner laughs. “When you’re a freshman, you are just trying to do what you are told, and then all of a sudden you are a leader, a figurehead, and you don’t even know it. It’s been pretty cool, there have definitely been a lot of ups and downs, but I’m happy to be where I am as a senior.”
As her final season runs its course, Kellner leaves her teammates and her fellow Irish athletes with words of wisdom from the many life lessons she has learned during her time at Notre Dame.
“One of my biggest things is not letting emotions get the best of you and know that every practice is not the end all be all. Tennis is tough because it’s so individual but it’s not at the same time. It is so much on you, but at the same time, if you are playing terrible while your teammate is having a good day, you should be happy for them and support them.”
And as for her final season as an Irish tennis player, Kellner emphasizes that she wants to make it one of the best.
“I definitely, in the back of my mind, have particular goals like winning certain things, but I don’t really want to have goal like that,” she confesses. “I want to have fun and want everyone else to be happy on the team while setting a good precedent in that way. Obviously I want win and do the best I can. I want to give it my all because I’ve been playing tennis my whole life, and all of a sudden it’s over, so I don’t want to have any regrets or feel that I didn’t put as much into it as I could have.”