Stella Schmitz stretches out during a practice on Aug. 30, 2023, at Kaiserslautern High School in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Stella Schmitz stretches out during a practice on Aug. 30, 2023, at Kaiserslautern High School in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

Stars and Stripes has selected an Athlete of the Year for each of the respective fall sports played across each of DODEA’s Europe and Pacific theaters. Check out our site this week to read profiles for golf (Tuesday), tennis (Wednesday), cross country (Thursday), volleyball (Friday) and football (Saturday).

The comparisons follow Kaiserslautern’s Stella Schmitz everywhere she goes.

Between her father Frank, a former professional tennis player turned academy coach, and her sister Aiva, who won three DODEA European titles during her Raider career, Stella constantly is weighed by some against older family members.

Schmitz, the Stars and Stripes girls tennis Athlete of the Year, said she’s used to it.

“Yes, but in a good way – like in a motivating way where you want to be compared to them,” Schmitz said. “It’s kind of a compliment being compared to them, knowing that you’re seen at their level, too.”

Based on her career so far, the junior has earned those comparisons.

She won the DODEA European girls singles championship last month at the T2 Sports Health Club in Wiesbaden, Germany. It marked her third crown as a Raider – a doubles championship with teammate Abby Hover her freshman year and two singles titles the past two campaigns.

The victory also was the fifth-straight singles championship won by a Schmitz. It could have been six, had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic washing away the 2020 season.

Schmitz dominated the scene this fall, dropping just one game – to Lakenheath’s Elizabeth Petrich on Oct. 7. In the tournament, the junior ace blanked every single opponent.

Cruising to the title didn’t dent the accomplishment, she said.

“Every year it’s even more special, more meaningful to kind of keep the legacy going,” Schmitz said. “It just motivates me to try to win the next year.”

Not that she’s looking toward next year already, though. Schmitz plays with a local German club year-round, so she’s never truly out of season.

While her overall game seems flawless against DODEA competition, Schmitz still faces dips and issues like everybody else. That’s where her father’s and sister’s experiences come into play, giving her whatever pointers she needs to fix the problem and improve as a player.

And while she may not have a tennis background, Stella also can turn to her mother for athletic advice. Clare Bernand-Schmitz played basketball at Marquette University before going professional for a few years in Germany, Luxembourg and Australia.

“They probably know more about tennis than I do,” Schmitz said. “Just knowing that if I have any little problem, anything that I need help with, I can always go to them and they always have the answers that help me.”

As if she doesn’t have enough similarities to her sister, Schmitz is slated to follow her sister’s footsteps – kind of.

The Raider junior verbally committed to play collegiate tennis at Rutgers following a visit to the university this past summer. Schmitz described the program as having a little bit of everything she wants: stability (she said players don’t transfer out), a good dynamic between head coach Hilary Ritchie and assistant coach Hailey Barrett and good vibes among the players (although she admitted she only met a few because of the summer break).

The whole process was quick, but she said she wanted to get it out of the way early and Rutgers made such a big impression.

The Scarlet Knights play in the Big Ten conference, which also has Minnesota as a member. Aiva is a Golden Gopher, which means the two could square off when Stella joins in fall 2025.

“We’re joking about that. Are our parents going to be wearing Minnesota or Rutgers gear?” Schmitz said. “I’m very happy that I’ll be playing in the same conference as her.”

Before that, Schmitz has one more year at Kaiserslautern, where she can equal her sister’s individual title total.

No matter the result, Stella Schmitz won’t be able to escape the comparisons. And that will keep driving her forward.

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Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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