PORTSMOUTH — Playing top-notch competition in high school only helps when the transition to collegiate competition becomes necessary.
At Conner High School, Grace Eberhard faced top-notch talent on a consistent basis coming out of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s (KHSAA) Ninth Region.
Her performance over the course of her high school career, and her willingness to never back down from a challenge, led to Eberhard making an impact as a top-three singles player throughout the duration of the 2019-20 tennis season at Shawnee State as a freshman.
However, Eberhard also believes that her ability to make an impact on this season’s SSU tennis roster is due, in large part, to the culture that has been put in place by Steve Boone and the entire program.
“You’re part of a family,” Eberhard said. “You push each other and help each other.”
At Conner, a school that sits less than 25 minutes southwest of Cincinnati and falls just beyond the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, Eberhard stood out above the crowd from the outset.
From her seventh grade year forward, Eberhard competed on Conner’s varsity level squad — and despite missing her entire sophomore season due to injury — obtained four All-Ninth Region Team honors over the course of her career.
In her senior season, Eberhard, along with doubles partner Aly Elleman, made a historic run for the Conner program at the 2019 KHSAA State Tennis Tournament.
The duo upset the No. 5-seeded South Warren duo of Sydney Cassady and Natalie Noble, and added in a victory over Morgan County’s Emily Hammonds and Kennedy Trusty to advance to the Sweet 16 in a historically tough field.
The triumphant weekend for Eberhard only got better.
Even though SHE and Elleman lost in the Round of 16, Eberhard’s good friends, Elizabeth Hamilton and Haliemae Laurino of Ryle High School, ended up winning the 2019 KHSAA Doubles Championship.
“The experience was truly the best,” Eberhard said. “I grew up playing doubles with my best friend, and we always had lots of support from family and friends. Then, getting to watch some of my friends that I grew up playing tennis with win state was awesome.”
By the time her senior year began, Eberhard was ranked as the 12th-best player in the state according to Tennis Recruiting, and was ranked 954th overall in her class.
Her abilities and experience as a tennis player — in addition to her strong senior-year showing, her swift recovery from injury and her strong academic performance in the classroom as evidenced by her National Honor Society accolades — made the Northern Kentucky native an ideal fit for any college program.
Shawnee State, however, won out due to the rigorous programs that the institution offers in the medical areas — among additional values that Eberhard held near.
“(Steve) Boone reached out to me through a recruitment site that I had in high school,” Eberhard said. “He was very persistent. I did some research on Shawnee State, and thought that it checked off a lot of boxes that I wanted in a college.”
So far, the fit has worked out well for both parties.
Athletically, Eberhard ended up becoming Shawnee State’s No. 1 singles player and teamed with returning letterwinner Claire Carruthers at the No. 1 doubles slot.
Academically, Eberhard held an unblemished 4.0 GPA through the final week of her freshman year — and is well on her way to a strong career in the physical therapy program at SSU.
For now, however, Eberhard’s simply trying to keep her focus squarely on one task at a time, a day at a time.
“It’s been a pretty good experience,” Eberhard said. “I’m very happy that I ended up at Shawnee State. I look forward to going back. As far as tennis, I hope to continue to play and push myself to be the best version of myself on and off of the court.”