Glen Ellyn resident Rettger wins national pickleball title

  • Playing alongside Casey Cullen of Michigan, Glen Ellyn resident Rachel Rettger and her partner captured a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (where the BNP Paribas Open is held).

    Playing alongside Casey Cullen of Michigan, Glen Ellyn resident Rachel Rettger and her partner captured a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (where the BNP Paribas Open is held). Courtesy of Rachel Rettger

  • Playing alongside Casey Cullen of Michigan, Glen Ellyn resident Rachel Rettger and her partner captured a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (where the BNP Paribas Open is held).

    Playing alongside Casey Cullen of Michigan, Glen Ellyn resident Rachel Rettger and her partner captured a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (where the BNP Paribas Open is held).

 
By Scott Schmid
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 12/28/2021 11:12 AM

Rachel Rettger is no stranger to success, having been a high school state qualifier in both tennis and badminton and a four-year letter winner in college.

But the Glen Ellyn resident accomplished something on Dec. 12 that just might top her long list of athletic achievements.

 

Playing alongside Casey Cullen of Michigan, the 24-year-old and her partner captured a mixed doubles title at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California (where the BNP Paribas Open is held).

"I feel like this has to be up there as one of my favorites (accomplishments), if not my favorite," Rettger said. "It was so much fun to go to California and play in such a cool venue, especially with being such a big tennis fan. I have so much fun playing with Casey, we make such a good team. And my family was able to come out, it was great that they were there. So it might be my favorite."

Competing in the 5.0:19+ division (the highest level of amateur play before the professional division, ages 19 and above), the duo went a perfect 4-0, winning the first pair of matches in two games before emerging with an 11-8, 6-11, 11-8 victory in the semis. In the finals, after dropping the opening game and being down 6-2 in the second, Rettger and Cullen called timeout. From there, they didn't lose another point, rattling off nine in a row to close out that game and then posting an 11-0 shutout in the deciding game.

Not bad for a partnership that didn't form until the regional qualifier in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in June. In fact, Rettger and Cullen had never even met before winning that event, which punched their ticket to the National Championships.

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"It (the National Championships) was such an awesome tournament," she said. "They painted over the tennis courts to make the pickleball courts and there were about 2,200 players overall in the tournament. It was great feeling to come out on top. We were in a really tough bracket so it was awesome to win."

Growing up in a family of tennis players, which includes older sister Ashley, Rettger got started with that sport at an early age. She went on to be a two-time state qualifier at Glenbard South in doubles with partner Jenna Brambora while also competing in badminton, where she advanced to state in singles. She continued her tennis career at Elmhurst University, playing both singles and doubles there.

"I had so much fun in high school with tennis and badminton," said Rettger, who won five total matches at state with Brambora. "I just loved to be a part of a team. Plus I'm super competitive so when I get to play something against somebody, it's fun to me. And I had great coaches and a great team as well.

"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. Playing at Division III, I still had the opportunity to focus on school which was my main priority."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Graduating with a degree in biochemistry in 2019, she went on to be a graduate assistant coach at Elmhurst as she completed her master's in business administration.

"I really did like it, I love coaching," she said," though it was tough for me being so competitive. It was hard for me not to be on the court. I'd be watching and be like, 'oh my gosh, I just want to be playing that match.' But at the same time, it was great, I loved that team."

Little did Rettger know that she would be able to scratch that competitive itch with a new sport; a little 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 of 2020.

Count Elmhurst University women's tennis coach Mark Cunnington among those certainly not taken aback by the success, especially with her outstanding work ethic.

"I'm not surprised that she has reached this level so quickly," said Cunnington, who Rettger coached under, "because she is very driven when she puts her mind to something. I've seen her compete on the court and she is very focused. She has a great attitude so I'm sure that translates from the tennis court to pickleball. I would imagine she will continue to be a winner at the pro level for pickleball."

Now the fact that she was able to quickly catch on to pickleball doesn't mean it didn't come with certain frustrations.

"I did like it right away because it was a racket sport," said Rettger, who practices at Centre Court in Hanover Park and Sky Fitness Center in Buffalo Grove. "So I picked it up kind of quickly. But there is definitely a different strategy to it then tennis. Definitely my biggest adjustment was learning to play pickleball and not just rely on my tennis skills. At first I was just basically trying to play tennis on a pickleball court.

"Pickleball is a lot more strategic. You want to drop shot the ball and you want to hit dinks. It's a lot less banging the ball and hitting the ball as hard as you can. It's a lot more finesse and strategy."

Now a national champion, Rettger, who is nannying as she navigates the job hunt, will take a few weeks off before resuming training. More tournaments beckon including the U.S. Open in Naples, Florida, in April where she will play in all professional events.

"Getting to travel and play pickleball, I love it," she said.

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