Kristyn Conrad signing

Kristyn Conrad, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, signed on Monday to play tennis at Ashland University next fall. She was accompanied by her family, friends and coaches. Front row, from left to right: Jacklyn LeMaster (mother), Conrad, RJ LeMaster (father). Back row, from left to right: Taylor Conrad, Madi Conrad, Austin Conrad, Steve Tier (MVHS girls tennis coach).

MOUNT VERNON – The term coach Steve Tier used was “shining example.”

That’s what senior Kristyn Conrad has been for the MVHS girls tennis program over the last four years, he said. And on Monday, Conrad only verified that view.

The Yellow Jackets’ No. 1 singles player signed her National Letter of Intent to play at Ashland University next fall. She was the second Mount Vernon senior to commit to a college program this school year, as Hannah Baldwin (No. 2 singles) signed with Mount Vernon Nazarene University in October.

Conrad stood speechless following her signing ceremony on Monday afternoon in the high school lobby. She was surrounded by her family, friends and coaches.

“It means a lot. I always wanted to go to a school and I never thought I would be playing tennis there. And then now I’m like, ‘Wow, I can actually compete with the people that are there,’” said Conrad, who donned black-and-purple Ashland garb.

“It’s amazing. It’s just an amazing experience.”

Kristyn Conrad signing 2

Conrad plans to major in biochemistry at Ashland.

Conrad was the only senior on last fall’s team to have lettered all four years, as she began as a varsity doubles player her freshman year. She then worked her way up to No. 1 singles, going from third to first over her final three years of high school.

Tier, who has coached at Mount Vernon for 11 years, said Monday was a landmark day for the girls tennis program: it was the first time in his tenure that a player from the program signed to a D-II university.

“She’s been a great example of the student-athlete. She’s doing very well in class," Tier said. "So we’re just thrilled that she got to play at a Division II school."

Conrad led Mount Vernon to its second straight winning season last fall, as the Jackets finished 10-8 and placed fourth in the OCC. The team scored a program-record 19 points at OCC duals and won a round in the Ohio Tennis Coaches’ Association’s State Team Tournament.

Conrad was one of three Yellow Jackets to medal at the OCC Championships, placing third in No. 1 singles.

Coming off a momentous senior season, however, Conrad’s decision to sign with Ashland was based primarily on academics. She visited the school for its biochemistry program, she said, and when tennis became an option there as well, she jumped at the chance.

“I just loved the school, like, completely. And then I was like, 'Well maybe I can play tennis there,'” Conrad said. “I talked to the coach and she wanted me. Just a great experience.”

Conrad plans to major in biochemistry, continuing her lifelong love of science. Before taking college credit courses at MVNU, where she now goes full-time, Conrad took KAP Chem at MVHS. She enjoyed the Kenyon College-credit honors chemistry course, she said, and sought further learning.

Tier commended Conrad for her community service efforts on Monday. Tier teaches youth tennis lessons through the city’s recreation board, and Conrad would often volunteer her time to help local youngsters learn how to play the game.

“She could show a lot of people what’s possible when it comes to developing your tennis in Mount Vernon,” Tier said.

Conrad has been committed to Mount Vernon’s tennis culture ever since she moved here from the Olentangy school district in middle school. She first picked up a racket in seventh grade and has loved the sport ever since, as she was a member of Mount Vernon's first middle school club team.

On the court, Tier classified Conrad as a fierce, intelligent competitor.

“She brings a dedication. She is focused, she knows her strokes. She knows what her game can do,” Tier said. “She has had a lot of encouragement from a lot of different coaching people, so she has that background.

“So I think that served her well at times, when she was in close matches. And I think it also served her well when she was playing against opponents she knew were a higher level than we were. She could relax and still try to do her best.”

While Conrad believes she became a more consistent player over her last four years, Tier was more impressed by her leadership. He said this year’s senior class as a whole stood out in that fashion.

“We reaped the benefits of their hard work and their ability to stick with it, you know. They made a decision that tennis was their sport and worked at it from a young age,” Tier said of the class. “And that’s what we want to promote to the younger kids, and show successes – this is what can happen to you if you decide this is it and you want to focus on it.”

Conrad acknowledged she would need to step her game up to compete at the next level. She will be central in Ashland’s rebuilding process, as the Eagles finished eighth out of 10 teams in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference during the fall season.

But she’s up for the challenge. Minutes after putting her name on the dotted line on Monday, Mount Vernon News reporter Erick Starkey asked Conrad the question: “If I would have told you years ago that you would be playing college tennis, what would you have thought?”

“I would have thought you were insane,” Conrad answered, awash with emotion. “Like, I don’t think I would have thought I’d ever be here.”

Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.