Barbara Stevenson has seen a lot of good athletes compete in the City League throughout her 16 seasons coaching the Centennial High School girls tennis team.
In Stevenson's opinion, none of those tennis players could match the skill level of Centennial senior Niki Stearns.
"Niki's the best girl tennis player I've seen come through the City League," Stevenson said. "And she's probably one of the best, if not the best, female tennis players to ever play in the City League."
Stearns didn't lose a game while helping the Stars win five of their first six matches.
She beat her first six opponents by scores of 6-0, 6-0, including Hilliard Davidson's Mallory Wilson on Aug. 29.
Centennial was 5-1 after beating Marion-Franklin 5-0 on Sept. 5.
"This year, Niki played during the winter against the top guns in our area, and her game has gone up two levels," Stevenson said. "She's playing out of her mind and she can do no wrong out there. Niki has a very good serve and she really hits the ball hard. She has a natural court sense and excellent placement. She's fast and fit, and she uses good strategies on the court."
Stearns was born in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, and adopted by Curt and Pam Stearns at 3 months old. While growing up in Bandung, Indonesia, she wasn't always a big fan of tennis.
She began playing at age 5, and after some ups and downs, rose as high as fifth in Indonesia's junior rankings at age 13.
"When I was younger I lost a lot, and I really hated tennis and wanted to quit playing," Stearns said. "There were definitely some times where I wanted to give up, but my parents wanted me to stick with it and I'm glad I did, because I got a lot better as I got older."
Curt and Pam Stearns decided to move back to Columbus two years ago, and Niki and her younger sister, Jani, experienced culture shock when they enrolled at Centennial after being homeschooled most of their lives in Indonesia.
"My parents lived in Indonesia for 18 years, but they decided it was better for us to move here so we could get a better education and grow up in a better environment," Stearns said. "I really liked Centennial and being part of a tennis team, but I'm also homesick in some other ways because things are so different here.
"The weather, food and outdoors were a lot different in Indonesia. It never gets below 60 degrees where I'm from, and I don't like the cold weather we get here. We ate a lot more rice and fresh food in Indonesia, where there's a lot more fast food here. And there are a lot of mountains, valleys and even volcanoes in Indonesia, where Ohio is mostly flat."
Stearns became an instant success in high school tennis, going undefeated at first singles during the regular season and placing first in first singles in the City League coaches tournament each of the past two seasons.
As a sophomore, Stearns went 1-1 in a Division II sectional tournament. Last year, she went 3-1 and placed third to advance to district, where she lost in the second round.
The Stars will compete in the Division I postseason this season.
"In the past, I got used to dominating people in my league matches and then I would freak out when I started losing games against stronger opponents," Stearns said. "This year, I'm really looking forward to playing some of the tougher players, because I know they will give me a good game and make me play my best.
"I've never lost a match outside of the (postseason) tournaments, so my goal is to keep that streak going. And I'd like to go a little farther in the tournament if that's possible."
Stearns said she is being recruited to play tennis at Capital, Ohio Dominican and Otterbein universities. She plans to study public health and nursing.
"I want to work in a field that's global so I can find a job in any country I want to live in," she said. "It would be nice if I can work here as a nurse, but I'd also like to work in community health so I can go back (to Indonesia) and help my people live healthier lives. I'm really grateful for the family I have now because I have the opportunity to live a good life in two countries that I enjoy for different reasons."
Football team remains unbeaten
The football team plays Thursday, Sept. 12, at Bexley in a matchup of 2-0 squads.
On Sept. 6, Centennial outlasted Franklin Heights 48-47 and Bexley routed Berne Union 28-2.
Centennial's 3-4 defense, which is led by nose guard Kenny Lambert, linebacker Darsean Watts and end Noah Martin, will face a run-oriented offense that rushed for 313 yards against Berne Union.
Zach Ward rushed for 58 yards and a 5-yard touchdown for the Lions, while quarterback Andre Stewart ran for a 5-yard score and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Greg Miller.
For the Stars, Jeremy Johnson completed 26 of 40 passes for 247 yards and five touchdowns against Franklin Heights.
Centennial rallied from a 35-21 fourth-quarter deficit, as Tyler Patterson rushed 10 yards for a score to tie the game at 41 with just over six minutes left and Johnson threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Patterson with 28.2 seconds remaining.
Taylour Ousley had eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns, Anthony Slappy had an 18-yard scoring reception and Watts had a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Stars, who finished 1-9 last year, opened Aug. 30 with a 20-7 win over Grandview, as Watts rushed for 113 yards and two scores.
Boys soccer team wins another City game
The boys soccer team beat Brookhaven 9-0 on Sept. 5 to improve to 2-1-1 overall and 2-0-1 in the City League-North Division before playing a league game Sept. 9 at Columbus International.
Against Brookhaven, midfielder Timothy Weishaupt and forward Manny Kankam each scored three goals, forward Sam Benson and midfielder Wasik Rahman each scored a goal, midfielder Alexis Martinez had two assists and defenders Luka Brkljacic and Lake Wilburn each had an assist.
The Stars play league games Thursday, Sept. 12, at Whetstone and Tuesday, Sept. 17, at home against International.
Last year, Centennial beat Whetstone 2-0 and tied International at 1 en route to finishing fourth in the City at 8-3-1, behind Walnut Ridge (10-1-1), Whetstone (9-2-1) and International (8-2-2).