Katie Ruckert was simply dominant. A 2001 graduate of Madison High school, Ruckert sits in a first place tie for the most AAA state tennis titles in a career in Virginia High School League history. Ruckert, who went on to play tennis at the University of Texas, was "An instant impact," said former Madison tennis coach Ernest Tolton, who coached the five-time state champion for three years after Ruckert transferred to Madison following her freshman year at Robinson. Ruckert was a four-time district champion, four-time region champion and three-time state champion in singles. She was also an all-district, all-region and all-state selection every year.
"Her dad called me and said 'Hey my daughter is going to come to your school. Is she guaranteed No. 1?'" said Tolton, who watched Ruckert defeat Madison's No. 1 Mary Kovarik in the regional semifinals in her freshman year at Robinson. "It gave me depth, big depth."
KOVARIK AND RUCKERT battled each other on the courts with a rivalry that, at times, grew uncomfortable. But it was Ruckert who earned Madison's No. 1 spot and eventually made Northern Region history after she won individual state titles in 1998, 1999, and 2000 and also — along with Kovarik — scored doubles titles in 1999 and 2000. Ruckert's final high school record was 104-4.
She admitted that the pressure of being expected to win every match at the high school level fueled her.
She lost only two singles matches as a freshman and one match in each of her sophomore and junior years before going undefeated as a senior.
"I wouldn't say there was jealousy. There was a rivalry between her and Mary for a while," remembered Tolton. In 1999, when Ruckert and Kovaric where both juniors, they met in the state final. Ruckert won a 6-2, 6-2 decision for her second AAA singles title. And when Ruckert was thinking about leaving the Warhawks behind in her senior season, Kovaric — who won two state doubles titles playing alongside of Ruckert — intervened.
"[Katie's] last year, she was torn between coming back and going on with her [private] coach at the time," said Tolton. "Mary got together with some of the girls and called me and said 'We understand what we have with Katie. If we want to go to state we need Katie.'"
Ruckert, who was already ranked in the top-10 in the country on the Junior National tennis circuit all throughout her high school career, was also ranked at No. 3 nationally as a junior. She was also ranked No. 118 by the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association as a junior. Still, Ruckert believed she had work left ahead of her.
"I was so busy with tennis. That's all I did," said Ruckert, who turned pro last August after helping the University of Texas to a Big12 championship in 2005 and into the national championship. "I would leave school to play these national tournaments. I'm not going to get recognition for being ranked in the nation, but I win a state championship and my friends are like 'wow'...It was kind of weird."
RUCKERT BECAME ONE of the most well-known players in Virginia.
"I think I kind of brought more attention and, just in general, attention to tennis," said Ruckert. "Tennis before hadn't really gotten a lot."
It was her senior year in which Ruckert made Northern Region history winning the most state titles ever by a Northern Region tennis player. Madison's team hopes were shattered in Ruckert's junior and senior year (2000 AAA State Finals: Centreville 5, Madison 2) as the Warhawks lost to Centreville in the semifinals (1999) and finals, respectively.
"My senior year, the final match went to three sets," said Ruckert of her eventual 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 singles championship victory over Centreville's Kristen James. "I felt the pressure a little bit. It was a big deal."
Ruckert won three individual state titles and, together with Kovaric, brought home two doubles championships raising Ruckert's final tally to five titles.
"She played [tennis] like a chess match," said Tolton. "She would out-think you. She had a powerful forehand. She was a baseliner. She was an attacking person in singles. She would punish you with the ball."
Katie Ruckert is 95 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.