Rachel Rettger is no stranger to success, having qualified in high school tennis and badminton and winning a four-year college letter.
But the Glen Ellyn resident accomplished something on December 12 that could well be at the top of her long list of athletic accomplishments.
Playing alongside Michigan’s Casey Cullen, the 24-year-old and her partner won a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA National Pickleball Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Calif. (Home of BNP Paribas Open).
“I feel like this has to be one of my favorites (accomplishments), if not my favorite,” Rettger said. “It was so much fun going to California and playing in such a cool place, especially being a huge tennis fan. I have so much fun playing with Casey, we are such a great team. got to come outside, it was great that they were there. So this might be my favorite. “
Competing in the 5.0: 19+ Division (the highest level of amateur play before the Professional Division, from age 19), the duo achieved a perfect 4-0, winning the first pair of games in two games before come out with an 11-8, 6-11, 11-8 victory in the semifinals. In the final, after abandoning the opener and losing 6-2 in the second, Rettger and Cullen called the time out. From there, they didn’t lose another point, scoring nine in a row to close that game and then registering an 11-0 shutout in the deciding game.
Not bad for a partnership that only formed during regional qualifiers in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in June. In fact, Rettger and Cullen had never even met before winning this event, which earned them their ticket to the National Championships.
“It (the national championships) has been such a great tournament,” she said. “They repainted the tennis courts to make the pickleball courts and there were about 2,200 players in total in the tournament. It was great to come out on top. We were in a really tough patch so it was great. to win. “
Growing up in a family of tennis players, which includes his older sister Ashley, Rettger started playing the sport at a young age. She went on to compete twice in the state qualifiers at Glenbard South in doubles with partner Jenna Brambora while also competing in badminton, where she qualified in singles. She continued her tennis career at Elmhurst University, playing there both singles and doubles.
“I had so much fun in high school with tennis and badminton,” said Rettger, who won five games in total with Brambora. “I loved being on a team. Plus I’m super competitive so when I play something against someone it’s fun for me. And I also had great coaches and a great team.
“College was definitely a challenge, I don’t think people realize how high-level Division III can be. But I really enjoyed being a student-athlete. By playing Division III, I really enjoyed being a student-athlete. I always had the opportunity to focus on school which was my main priority. “
Graduating with a biochemistry degree in 2019, she became a graduate assistant coach at Elmhurst as she completed her Masters in Business Administration.
“I really liked it, I love coaching,” she said, “although it was hard for me to be so competitive. It was hard for me not to be on the pitch. I was looking and thinking to myself, “oh my my gosh i just wanna play this game. But at the same time, it was great, I loved this team. “
Rettger didn’t know she would be able to shake that competitive itch with a new sport; Just over a year ago, she was introduced to pickleball by a friend who was a former professional racquetball player and soon after was playing in her first tournament, the Chicago Open in September 2020.
Count Elmhurst University women’s tennis coach Mark Cunnington among those who are certainly not surprised by the success, especially with his exceptional work ethic.
“I’m not surprised that she got to this level so quickly,” said Cunnington, with whom Rettger has coached, “because she’s very motivated when she’s focusing on something. I’ve seen her compete on something. the court and she’s very focused. She has a great attitude so I’m sure that translates from tennis court to pickleball. I imagine she will continue to be a pro-level winner for pickleball. “
Now, just because she was able to adapt quickly to pickleball doesn’t mean it didn’t come with some frustrations.
“I liked it right away because it was a racquet sport,” said Rettger, who trains at Center Court in Hanover Park and Sky Fitness Center in Buffalo Grove. “So I figured it out pretty quickly. But there is definitely a different strategy to tennis. My biggest adjustment was learning to play pickleball and not just relying on my tennis skills. , I was just trying to play tennis on a pickleball court.
“Pickleball is a lot more strategic. You want to drop the ball and you want to hit dinks. It’s a lot less hitting the ball and hitting the ball as hard as you can. It’s a lot more finesse and strategy. . “
Now national champion, Rettger, who looks after the nanny as she navigates the job search, will take a few weeks off before resuming training. Other tournaments await her, including the US Open in Naples, Florida in April, where she will participate in all professional events.
“Being able to travel and play pickleball, I love that,” she said.