Palinkas brothers prepare for one final high school match

Geneva boys tennis players Nathan (second from left) and Isaac Palinkas are getting ready for the boys state tennis tournament, which starts Friday in Mason. They are pictured with Eagles head coach and grandfather Alex Steutzer.

GENEVA — Isaac and Nathan Palinkas may be coached by their grandfather, Alex Stuetzer, but when it comes to advice, it’s Grandma’s that seems to stick with them best.

“My grandmother has a saying,” Isaac began to explain. “‘If you’re not improving or you’re not getting better … you’re getting worse.”’

The Palinkas family will make what has become an annual trip down I-71 today as they compete in the Division II boys state tennis tournament . Action starts Friday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, just outside of Cincinnati.

It will be their third year in a row making the trip to the southwest corner of the state, but the fact they’ve been there the last two years does not make it any less special.

“You can never take it for granted,” Nathan said. “Even though it’s our third time, it’s still a great feeling. You always want to go out and get better because anyone can win on any given day. There’s a beauty to the sport.”

For the Palinkas brothers, that ‘beauty’ is about a lot more than a strong net game or a powerful serve. It’s about playing for a tradition rich program like Geneva and even moreso, it’s about representing not only their school but their family together. The experience of playing doubles in three straight state tennis competitions goes right along with the tradition of past Geneva greats such as Arnold Bradshaw, Phil Dubsky, Amy Varckette and others. But, it also has been unique in that it’s been one they’ve enjoyed as a family.

“It’s been amazing,” Nathan said. “Being able to play with my brother and being coached by my grandfather, it’s been an amazing experience.”

Steutzer added, “The reason I remained in coaching was to coach Isaac and Nathan. I coached my son, I coached my daughter. It’s been a special bond, not only from a player, but as a grandfather.”

The Palinkases will play as a No. 2 seed and face Arie Tuckerman and Jack Madison from Gahanna Columbus Academy in the first round.

The state tennis tournament is single elimination and the boys have been out after one match the past two years. Though it will be their last shot at notching a win in Mason, they say pressure to win will not be an issue.

“I really enjoy playing down there,” Nathan said. “It’s just the experience, the chance to play good tennis against the best players in the state.”

Isaac added, “It’s pretty breathtaking. When you walk into the facility, you just think ‘how many people get the chance to play in a professional facility, and I’ve gotten to do it three years in a row.’ I don’t think there’s any reason to put any pressure on ourselves. I look at it as the end of a beautiful chapter in my life and the beginning of the next one.”

The next chapter he speaks of will be at John Carroll University where the boys will continue to play tennis at the college level.

But for now, what their grandfather wants most is for them to simply enjoy playing in their final competition as high school players together.

“That exactly what I want,” Stuetzer said. “I want them to go down, play the best that they can, be relaxed and enjoy it. It is their final season in high school. We know we’re here for a reason. We have a goal, If we reach it, good. If not, it’s not because we didn’t work, we didn’t try.”