The drive from Olentangy High School in Lewis Center, Ohio, to the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center on West Henderson Road takes less than half an hour –– nearly a straight shot down U.S. Route 23.
The drive to redshirt freshman Kathleen Jones’ first career singles victory for the Buckeyes, however, took more than a year and endured some wrong turns.
“It was tough. It was not hard to cheer on my teammates. It was hard feeling like I was not really contributing a lot,” Jones said. “Now I go out there and play, I feel like I am a part of the team. You are a part of the team as a redshirt, but it’s just different sitting in the stands every time.”
Jones made it to the school for which she always wanted to play –– the one from which both of her parents graduated –– but she wasn’t competing for titles like she was as a two-time state quarterfinalist at Olentangy. In fact, she wasn’t on the court at all during Ohio State’s tennis matches. Instead, she redshirted her first year.
Even before that, Jones had to work hard to get recognition from Ohio State. She sought out clinics taught by Ohio State head coach Melissa Schaub and assistant coach Adam Cohen.
“She wanted to be a Buckeye badly. We thought she had the natural athleticism and the desire to be here,” Cohen said.
Part of that desire stemmed from Jones’ father, Arnie Jones, who started at linebacker for the Buckeyes from 1972 to ’74, and served as team captain during his senior year.
Instead of carrying on her dad’s legacy in the field of play in her first season, though, Kathleen had to join him and her mother Julie in the stands at Ohio State tennis matches a year ago.
“My family made things a lot easier. Since my dad played here, he really understands the student-athlete life and how it’s all about time management,” Jones said. “He was able to give me a lot of advice on that, which really helped, and just talking to my mom has been really calming.”
Off the court, academics were adding further struggles.
“I used to be an engineering major, and my classes were really tough. I was so stressed, and I found myself going home a lot,” Jones said.
Jones eventually switched her major to communication, a move that coincided with a second year in which she finally got her chance to shine.
But she didn’t shine right away.
Jones didn’t start during the spring season and dropped her first two singles starts of the year to Michigan senior Lera Patiuk and sophomore Anca Craciun Jan. 17 and 18, respectively, at the Michigan Invitational to open the spring.
It was against then-No. 5 Duke two weeks later that Jones got her moment. Jones swung her way to a 6-0, 6-1 victory against junior Hannah Zhao, part of an upset team win 4-2 to knock off the Blue Devils.
“It means a lot to her to wear the scarlet and gray,” Schaub said. “And especially out there against ranked Duke, her first college singles match, it was an unbelievable feeling for her. It was exciting for all of us.”
Jones had made her biggest mark on the team in the doubles arena, where she is 4-2 with redshirt senior Danielle Wolf. The duo’s four wins are tied for the second-most doubles wins on the team this season.
“I am really excited that she originally redshirted. We talked all along about how she was going to have an impact in doubles,” Schaub said. “I think you see the progression now, and she’s going to be making an impact for us in doubles and in singles.”
It wasn’t always an easy road for Jones to follow, but the destination is beginning to look promising.