The game of tennis found her when she was 5 years old, with her dad taking her to a nearby Affton school to hit of the school walls in the evenings.

Not that success came overnight for Kelly Mulvihill Stahlhuth. From the time she was 10 to 14, she rarely won. But little did she realize the lessons she was learning.

“I was undefeated in my time (in high school),” Stahlhuth said. “My freshman year, I had a stress fracture in my foot, so I could not compete at state. I never lost a singles match in high school.”

Stahlhuth certainly became one of the best tennis players in the Show-Me State, and then went on to collegiate success before enjoying a remarkable coaching career. All told, it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Stahlhuth with the Class of 2023.

At St. Joseph’s Academy, she was a three-time state champion (1982, 1983, 1984).

Years later, she earned induction into the Indiana Hoosiers Athletics Hall of Fame, as she was a four-year letterwinner and served as team captain in 1988 and 1989. Stahlhuth helped the Hoosiers win the Big Ten Conference in 1987, 1988, and 1989, and was All-Big Ten all four years. She also was the Big Ten MVP in 1988 and 1989. In four seasons, she was 138-44 in singles play and 111-29 in doubles.

She played in four NCAA Championships in singles and three in doubles, earning All-American honors in doubles in 1987 and 1989. She and Stephanie Reece won doubles at the 1988 Rolex All-American Championships and were selected to the 1989 Rolex Collegiate All-Star Team.

Stahlhuth later was the Washington University women’s tennis coach from 2005 to 2021. There, her teams were 215-115 (.652) and earned 12 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 11 consecutive from 2008 to 2018. The team also had four NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearances (2013-2017). Eleven of her players earned 14 All-American honors. Stahlhuth was the 2015 NCAA Division III Coach of the Year by the Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).

And it all began in St. Louis, with St. Joseph’s Academy serving as her launching pad.

Eventually, Northwestern, Indiana, Arizona, Arizona State, and Syracuse were her five paid visits. Ultimately, Indiana won out, thanks to coach Lin Loring and the Kelley Business School.

“I learned to compete as a team member, which I loved and really honed my doubles skills,” Stahlhuth said. “I loved doubles with my partners, as it was like a chess game where I could be aggressive and find ways to win.”

Her senior season, when she and Reece won the Rolex Championships in Los Angeles, the duo had a surprise fan – basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain. A year later, Stahlhuth made the Rolex All-Star team in New York and met tennis great Arthur Ashe.

At age 38, tennis called her home. Stahlhuth took on coaching the women’s team at Washington University in St. Louis.

“I realized then that I loved coaching WashU and found a calling that had not been possible until that job,” said Stahlhuth, who took over for 36-year coach Lynn Imergot and built on her success.

For Stahlhuth, the value of readying players for life became a priority.

“As a coach, I believe in honesty, integrity, positivity, support, and determination,” Stahlhuth said. “I hope that I instilled all these qualities in my everyday life as a coach. I stressed how tennis can help prepare my scholar-champions for the ‘real world’ in the boardroom, in the courtroom, and in the operating room.

“Tennis can help us handle pressure, adversity, challenges, losses, goal setting, failures and successes, on and off the court.”

Looking back, she credits many mentors for her success: Her mother Mary Pat, who taught her patience and strength. Her father/coach, Kevin, whose tenacity and grit Stahlhuth adopted. Her husband, Bruce, who became her rock, cheerleader, partner, teammate and  best friend. Loring, and her collegiate doubles partners, Janet and Stephanie.

Sister Ann and her wife, Tonya, as well as Stahlhuth’s children Ethan, Thomas, and Kallie have thrown their support to her, too. Their unconditional love and support are endless.

These days, Stahlhuth is the District Activities Director of the Bayless School.

“Tennis has given me a full life of ups, downs, successes and failures,” Stahlhuth said. “I have been on the tennis court for 51 years of my life in some capacity, and I hope I have another 51 years to go! I am blessed!”