In tennis, a good first serve comes in hard, fast and full of life. Not a bad philosophy to live by, as far as Mallory Stemle is concerned.
After all, it's been her playing style since she first started watching tennis heroes like Jimmy Connors. And it has generated the kind of passion she's used to fuel her record-smashing career as leader of the IUPUI women's tennis team.
The French call it joie de vivre, "the joy of life." And Stemle, whose young life has already been marked by choosing unexpected directions, is experiencing that French expression first-hand this summer on a backpacking trip to Europe-a graduation present from her parents.
Stemle flew to Greece in late May and planned to hook up with her brother and other friends at various times in her travels across Europe, before reaching Paris in late June to return home.
"I've always looked forward to different experiences, and this (trip) is going to be really cool," she says. "Planning it has been a lot of fun, although I've tried not to plan too many things. I want to do as many things as possible on the spur of the moment. And the anticipation has been killing me!"
Moving to 'big city'
On the tennis court, anticipation has always been a big part of Stemle's hard-charging playing style. But she wasn't sure what awaited her at IUPUI when she left her hometown of Jasper, Ind., a small southern Indiana city with a population of a little over 12,000-less than half the size of IUPUI's enrollment.
She chose the campus because "it was in state, it was a big school and it was in a big city, all of which I wanted," says Stemle, who took up tennis at age 7 and began lessons at 9. She enjoyed playing softball and volleyball as much as wielding the racquet that eventually became her trademark tool.
"It didn't take me long to learn to love the game, though," she says. It helped that her mother also played.
Stemle was a well-regarded player at Jasper, one of the better high school programs in southern Indiana. "But coming up here put me back in my place," she laughs. "I had to establish myself all over again."
Making her mark
It didn't take her long to reach that goal. Stemle quickly moved into the number-two singles slot thanks to the hard-charging style she admired in Connors, a Hall of Famer. Perhaps not surprisingly, he too was left-handed.
"I was always taught to be aggressive, to get on top of the ball and go after shots," she says. "You can't play with fear. And taking a risk can be fun-if you make the shot, it's like "Wow, what a feeling!" And if you don't make the shot, it's 'next point?'" It also didn't take her long to help the Jaguars' program reach new heights.
"We kind of surprised ourselves and won the (Mid-Continent) conference championship, which got us a spot in the NCAA Tournament," Mallory says. "Playing UCLA on its own courts was really exciting, but the time at the beach wasn't bad, either!" The team repeated as Mid-Con champs during her sophomore season, earning another NCAA berth, and lost tough conference tournament matches in each of the past two seasons. During her four-year career, the Jaguars won more than 70 matches, the best fouryear stretch in IUPUI history. She was the league's Player of the Year for 2006, earned her fourth first-team All-Conference nod, and finished with 10 selections as the Mid-Continent Conference's "player of the week."
Although Stemle is well known for her achievements in singles play, she has been even more successful in playing doubles with the Jags. She holds the career records for doubles matches, wins and winning percentage, and particularly enjoyed her matches paired with former teammate Michelle Cunningham, one of her best friends from the team.
"When Michelle and I were playing together, we were so, so aggressive," Stemle recalls with a smile. "We'd be all up in everybody's faces, smashing the ball; it was intense! We had a lot of success because our games complemented each other's, and that's the key to a good doubles team."
Stemle and Cunningham are linked in another way: both were honored as seniors with IUPUI's prestigious Mel Garland Award as the university's top female student-athlete.
Stemle has enjoyed her time at IUPUI, though she admits that the atmosphere around the Jaguars' tennis program was a bit different than the slender 6-foot left-hander expected when she left home.
"To be honest, I thought it would be a little more intense," she laughs. "I didn't expect it to be as fun socially as it's been. There is a big family atmosphere around the tennis programs-in fact, all of IUPUI's athletes-that I really like."
Stemle also has made the most of life in the big city, too. She has taken full advantage of the downtown shopping, the restaurants, the entertainment venues and amenities such as White River State Park, where she often roller-blades along the scenic downtown canal.
"It's been a great place to spend the past four years," she laughs. "There is so much to do, and never enough time to do it all." Stemle's made her mark off the tennis court, as well. Three times she's been named to the Mid-Continent Conference's all-academic team. She's earned a place on IUPUI's academic advisors' honors list four times.
She is all business on and off the court, and all business in her career choices, too. She graduated this spring from the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, and plans to attend graduate school with an eye toward an MBA and a career in the pharmaceutical industry.
As the days of her college career wound down, Stemle found herself looking back almost as much as forward-except for the European vacation, that is.
"It's all gone by so fast," she says. "It seems like I came here for the first time just a day or two ago. It's hard to believe it's almost behind me."
On the other hand, Stemle is excited about what lies ahead, especially that European vacation.
"Skydiving in the mountains of Switzerland would be cool," she says with a grin. "Really cool!"