New Lodi High girls tennis coach Shelby Stilwell is familiar with the athletic skills with one of the returning players on her roster.
But Stilwell has not coached that player and the rest of the players in tennis.
Over the summer, Stilwell was hired to take over for Jill Kelsey, who has been coaching the girls’ program from 2010 until the 2018 squad. Kelsey will be an assistant coach.
In recent years, Kelsey led Lodi to winning seasons and Sac-Joaquin Section team playoff berths. She also sent many Flames into the individual divisional playoffs. The 2018 Lodi girls tennis produced a 6-4 record in the Tri-City Athletic League, and an 8-2 mark in 2017.
Kelsey stepped down in April because of health reasons. She has a form of Lady Windemere Syndrome, which is an infection of the lung.
“They found a fungus and a mole in my lungs,” said Kelsey, who noted it was discovered in April. “It’s a kind of a strange illness, but curable through strong antibiotics.”
Kelsey said she notified Lodi High Athletic Director Robert Winterhalter about her health in April, at the time she was coaching the Lodi High boys tennis team. She finished coaching the Flames’ squad. She is “50/50” on coaching the 2020 Lodi boys squad.
Because the antibiotics she’s taking are strong, Kelsey said the heat can play a factor on how she feels day-by-day. Knowing that the high school girls’ tennis season starts in the middle of the summer, Kelsey felt it was best to step down as the head coach.
“It was a very hard decision to step down,” Kelsey said. “I decided that I can’t wait until the last second because that’s not fair to the girls. I’m helping out a very good friend get accumulated to a job that takes a lot of work. I really enjoy the girls.”
Kelsey, who taught tennis at Twin Arbors Athletic Club before it closed down last November, encouraged Stilwell to apply for the coaching position.
“I’ve played tennis my whole life, my adult life,” Stilwell said. “I met Jill about 10 years ago; she was the pro for my two little ones. I have a passion for tennis, but I also learned a lot from her, coaching and mentoring.”
There are 23 players on the Lodi girls tennis’ roster, Stilwell said. Of the six singles, four are returning from the 2018 season.
Johnna Schroeder, a junior, moves into the No. 1 spot for the singles’ players, Stilwell said. The Nos. 2 and 3 players are foreign exchange students; Benedetta Piotti from Italy at No. 2 and Julia Butaev from Germany at No. 3. Piotti is a senior and Butaev a junior.
Anna Spaletta, a sophomore, is the Flames No. 4 singles player and Mary Barnes, a senior, No. 5. Junior CeCe Chinchiollo takes the No. 6 spot.
On Tuesday, challenge matches for the Flames’ Nos. 1, 2 and 3 doubles’ teams took place at the campus’ revamped tennis courts, located on the north side of The Inferno gym. Lodi will host all of its home matches on campus this season after years playing at Twin Arbors Athletic Club.
“A lot of them are returning, so they already know the drill,” Stilwell said.
Stilwell notes that her players have welcomed her to the program with enthusiasm.
“They have been so receptive to me as the new coach,” Stilwell said. “They’ve been more cooperative and more open-minded than I anticipated. I’m grateful for that. They are all excited and they are working so hard. It’s 100-plus degrees out here, and all of them are out here, ready to hit the court.”
Stilwell has also coached youth swim teams, plus soccer in parks and recreation. Coaching high school tennis is her first opportunity.
“It’s been great,” Stilwell said. “I’ve coached the little ones before in different capacities.”
Schroeder is one of Stilwell’s former players when Schroeder was small. Schroeder is a two-sport athlete; she started at shortstop and pitched on the Lodi High softball team last spring. Lodi has earned a section Division II playoff berth the last two seasons.
“I’ve known her since she was a little girl,” said Stilwell of Schroeder. “She played (sports) with my kids. So I’ve had some support in that respect as well.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 20, Lodi will scrimmage at Franklin of Elk Grove. Then on Thursday, Aug. 22, the Flames host Elk Grove in another scrimmage.
Lodi will officially start its pre-season on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at home against Merced.
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.