Sunday, April 07, 2002

Ball in the family

By Tom Groeschen,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's Kerri Wachtel is the No. 2-ranked women's racquetball player in the world. The No. 35 player had something to do with that.

    Name: Gerri Stoffregen
    Age: 58
    Family: Married to Bill, with children Kerri (Wachtel), Beau and Darren.
    Notable: Stands No. 35 in the Ladies Professional Racquetball Association world rankings ... Has won 22 national singles and doubles gold medals (11 each) in age-group racquetball competition, all since 1991 ... In golf, was Cincinnati Women's Met amateur champion in 1970.

    Name: Kerri Stoffregen Wachtel
    Age: 27
    Family: Married to Chris Wachtel.
    Notable: Stands No. 2 in the Ladies Professional Racquetball Association world rankings ... Won prestigious U.S. Open, the tour's top event, in November 2001 ... In high school, played No. 2 singles for an Ursuline tennis team that went unbeaten her senior year.

        Kerri Wachtel (nee Stoffregen) is the daughter of Gerri Stoffregen, whose athletic career includes 22 national age-group racquetball titles and the 1970 Cincinnati Met women's golf championship.

        “It's nice to have my Mom still playing and helping me,” Wachtel said. “I've got a great situation all around.”

        Wachtel, an Ursuline Academy and Miami University graduate, is the cover story of the March-April Racquetball magazine. The caption says “Rising Star,” with that star having risen dramatically in late 2001 when Wachtel won the world's top event, the U.S. Open. That event, televised by ESPN, pushed Wachtel No. 2 in the Ladies Professional Racquetball Association (LPRA) world rankings.

        “The goal is No. 1 this year,” Wachtel said.

        Gerri Stoffregen couldn't be happier. At age 58, she stands No. 35 in the LPRA world rankings herself.

        “I'm very proud of her,” said Stoffregen, who lives in Madeira with husband Bill. “Kerri was always very good at racket sports, and this came pretty easy for her.”

        Wachtel, 27, played tennis at Ursuline. She played No. 2 singles as her team went unbeaten her senior year. She took up racquetball in high school and won some tournaments on the local level. She worked her way up quickly and made the U.S. national team by 1994.

        “When I went to college and started playing more national events, I wanted to continue doing it,” Wachtel said. “I just kept working at it and kept improving.”

        She met her husband, Chris Wachtel, at a racquetball tournament in Columbus in 1998. They were married in August and live in Hyde Park. Chris, an account executive for an IT consulting firm, plays some national racquetball events and said his national ranking is “around 100.”

        “She's a great training partner, and I think we help each other out,” Chris said.

        Who wins when the two play head-to-head?

        “It depends,” Chris said, laughing. “We play some real tough matches, put it that way.”

Gerri Stoffregen (left) and Kerri Stoffregen Wachtel.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Racquetball is a best-of-three match. The object is for one player to hit the ball off the front wall in such a way that the other player cannot reach the ball before it bounces twice. The first two games are played to 15 points. The third, or tie-breaker, is an 11-point game.

        Racquetball first gained mass popularity in the early 1970s, and there is a push to make it an Olympic sport. For now, Wachtel will try to make the U.S. team for the 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic.

        Wachtel, whose day job is racquet sports director at Five Seasons Country Club in Symmes Township, travels to 15 weekend pro events a year. Some make pro racquetball their living, but Wachtel said she is fortunate that her Five Seasons job allows her some flexibility.

        “People familiar with racquetball understand it, but I don't think my friends understand where I'm going on the weekends,” Wachtel said.

        Racquetball requires lots of running, good hand-eye coordination and good physical conditioning. It does not require extraordinary size. Wachtel, for instance, stands 5 feet 4 — although the No. 1-ranked woman, Cheryl Gudinas of Lisle, Ill., stands just under 6 feet.

        “You need to be quick, but the key for me is mental toughness,” Wachtel said.

        And the good bloodlines. Gerri Stoffregen has been known for years for her golf, and she took up racquetball with good friend Shelley Ogden when Kerri was still in school. Gerri made such a fast rise on the senior circuit that she received a USRA national age group award in 1994 and was inducted into the Ohio Racquetball Hall of Fame in 1995.

        Gerri still plays racquetball almost daily, and Kerri said she could beat some of the top-ranked pros on the right day. But Gerri will leave that to her daughter.

        “She's just matured and gotten so much better,” Gerri said. “To watch her develop has been such a joy.”


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