July 12, 2005
By Bo Rottenborn
The fifth entry in the Monogram Club’s “Tuesday Testimonial” series features Kim Pacella, who was a standout tennis player for the Irish from 1987-91, when the program grew from being new to the Division I scene to one that entered the national rankings for the first time. Now the head tennis pro at a club in Toledo, Ohio, after being a team captain of the Irish, Pacella reflects on Notre Dame, her experience as a student-athlete during that unique period of program growth, and how special her alma mater remains in her heart and mind.
Pacella concluded her career with a 93-52 (.641) record in singles play, which placed her third on the Irish all-time singles victories list at the time. In dual-match action, she was 62-34 (.646), which was the most career singles wins in dual play for a Notre Dame competitor. Pacella was a recipient of the Byron V. Kanaley Award, the highest honor bestowed upon Irish student-athletes, for being exemplary as both a student and leader.
She was a regular in Notre Dame’s singles lineup throughout her career, with her top season coming in 1989-90, when she went 21-4, with all but one of her defeats coming against top-20 foes. Pacella also was a contributor in doubles, ending with a 54-48 overall record for a combined 147-100 mark.
Kim Pacella, a native of Toledo and graduate of Notre Dame Academy, remains the only northwest Ohio product ever to play for the Irish women’s tennis team.
When Pacella first arrived at Notre Dame, the women’s tennis team had been competing on the Division I level for just two seasons. Her career included the arrival of current head coach Jay Louderback – who has now led his teams to 13 consecutive top-30 finishes – in 1989. In her final season, Pacella was the captain of an Irish squad that broke into the national rankings for the first time (25th in the preseason), peaked at 21st, and finished 23rd. Over her final three seasons, Pacella helped her teams to a 49-23 (.681) record. It would be just two years after her graduation that Notre Dame made its debut in the NCAA Division I Team Championship.
Pacella claimed the North Star Conference championship at No. 4 singles in 1987 before prevailing at both that position and No. 2 doubles in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in ’88. She rounded out her conference experience with a pair of MCC No. 6 singles crowns to bring her career total of individual league titles to five. Notre Dame also captured team conference championship in each of her seasons.
Pacella was born in Bartelsville, Okla., but then moved to Toledo, Ohio, where she was a standout player at Notre Dame Academy. She served as the tennis team captain in both of her final two years, going undefeated in prep play as a junior before leading the Eagles to an undefeated campaign culminating with the 1987 Ohio state championship. She was four times an all-city selection, while also being tabbed team MVP as a rookie.
Notre Dame Academy also has produced some outstanding swimmers that have gone on to compete at the University of Notre Dame. The most recent in that group are a pair of rising juniors, Katie Carroll and Ellen Johnson, who combine to hold four current Irish records.
Upon college graduation, Pacella – who remains the only northwest-Ohio product in program history – returned to Toledo to become the head tennis pro at the Laurel Hill Swim and Tennis Club. She has held that position ever since, while continuing to play competitive tennis in the Toledo area, claiming city singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles. Among the junior players she has coached is Jamal Afridi, a rising sophomore on Notre Dame’s cross country and track and field teams.
She took time out from her teaching to reflect on her collegiate days, when she played a key role in advancing the Irish women’s tennis program to the status it enjoys now as one of the nation’s best.
Tuesday Testimonial – Entry #5, Kim Pacella (women’s tennis, `91); July 11, 2005
Kim Pacella won five individual conference titles and four team league crowns during her career.
“Notre Dame always has been a very special place to me. My grandparents were professors at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, and I can still recall my grandpa taking me to my first football game – I knew right then where I wanted to go to college!
“Being able to play tennis for ND was a dream come true. To this day I tell people it was the greatest experience of my life, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Being a student at Notre Dame is special in itself, but being a student-athlete is almost indescribable. I consider myself one of the luckiest ones, because I was able to experience virtually everything Notre Dame had to offer.
“When I played my first match at the Courtney Tennis Center, I remember looking up from the court and seeing both the golden dome and Sacred Heart Basilica. It was then that I really realized the enormity of my situation. Throughout my career, we always had great crowd support at our matches. The most amazing thing was that we always had people at our away matches, just because we played for Notre Dame, and they wanted to cheer us on for that reason. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.
“I was fortunate to attend Notre Dame during a time when the administration wanted to emphasize what were then called `Olympic’ sports – tennis, swimming and diving, track and field, etc. During this time, our scholarship money increased, and they wanted to bring in a more-experienced coach, which they did by hiring Jay Louderback. I had Jay as a coach for my final two years, and I can tell you he is a special person. Even though he was from Kansas and had previously coached at Wichita State and Iowa State, he came here already with a great love of Notre Dame. We would quiz him on ND trivia, and he always passed with flying colors! He has so much enthusiasm, not only for ND tennis but for all of Irish athletics. Jay not only helped my tennis game, he helped me prepare for the real world. He was always there with advice, and he wasn’t afraid to ask for my opinion on things.
“Jay also is a great coach. In two years, he took our team to its first-ever Division I national ranking. He did that through constant emphasis of teamwork and camaraderie. His philosophy was that the No. 1 player was just as important as the No. 6 player. As a result, the team bonded and really enjoyed being together, whether we were on the road or at home. We had a great deal of fun playing for Notre Dame and Jay.
Pacella — shown here with her nephew — is the head tennis pro at the Laurel Hill Swim & Tennis Club in Toledo.
“I get back to Notre Dame as much as possible; living in Toledo, I am only two hours away. I usually come for three football games a year. My dad (an ND law grad) and I drive in on Saturday, and our first stop is always at the Eck Tennis Center to see Jay. He fills me in on everything that is going on, and then we head to the game. I also try to get to some tennis matches and basketball games when it works into my schedule.
“I teach tennis for a living, and I love sharing my Notre Dame experiences with both the kids and adults that I teach. One former student of mine is now a student-athlete at ND: cross country and track and field runner Jamal Afridi. I like to think that part of the reason he chose Notre Dame is because of what I shared with him about my experiences, both as a student and a student-athlete.
“One of my favorite things to do, I have found over the years, is to bring people to ND for the first time. I love to see the expressions on their faces, as they first take it all in. Notre Dame is an indescribable place – you really have to see it to experience it.
“My grandmother is now buried at Notre Dame – it is hard for me to fathom that she is in the same cemetery as `The Gipper’ and Knute Rockne. She has a view of the stadium, the dome, and the basilica … if that isn’t heaven, I don’t know what is!!
“Notre Dame will always be a big part of my life. It is amazing how I still always feel at home when I am back on campus. Notre Dame is just a very special place with very special people.”
Do you have a recommendation of a former Notre Dame student-athlete to participate in the “Tuesday Testimonial” series? If so, please pass on the individual’s name and contact info. (if available) to Monogram Club archivist/publicist Pete LaFleur at firstname.lastname@example.org.