Recreation

Heather Fleming, Luke VanDonslear find bond over tennis

Mother of 3 and high school senior win Iowa Open gold

Heather Fleming of Robins hits to Molly Garber of Cedar Rapids (not pictured) in their women’s open singles at the USTA Baird Iowa Open at Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, July 28, 2019. Fleming won the match, 6-2. 6-2. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Heather Fleming of Robins hits to Molly Garber of Cedar Rapids (not pictured) in their women’s open singles at the USTA Baird Iowa Open at Veterans Memorial Tennis Center in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, July 28, 2019. Fleming won the match, 6-2. 6-2. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The open singles trophies from the 2019 Iowa Open tennis tournament were earned by a pair of friends at two completely different points in their tennis careers.

Heather Fleming, who competed for Cedar Rapids Kennedy in high school and UNI in college, defeated Molly Garber, a former Jefferson prep who played for Coe, in two sets to clinch her seventh Iowa Open title. Had Garber won, it would have been her third.

On the men’s side, Luke VanDonslear, a rising high school senior at Linn-Mar, beat Nate Greiner, former North Polk Comet and rising senior in college at Coe. It was an intense three sets, but VanDonslear clinched the victory in his first year competing in the tournament.

Fleming and VanDonslear met by playing at Elmcrest Country Club, but the entire tournament is full of athletes of all ages who have formed bonds by competing against each other for years.

“We’re all good friends,” Fleming said. “It’s awesome. It’s a huge tennis community. You get to know everybody over the years playing tennis together and become friends off the court, too.”

The tennis community in the Metro area made a friendship possible between a mother of three and a senior in high school who hasn’t yet made his college decision.

Fleming has known the people who run the Iowa Open and the other competitors for many years.

“I think I’ve played in this tournament every year since I was 9 except for one,” Fleming said. “I even played when I was pregnant with my first and right after I had my twins. It’s just been special because it’s my hometown tournament.”

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For Fleming, the Iowa Open is the continuation of a decorated career. Besides winning a record seven titles in Cedar Rapids, she has won five national tennis titles, four of which were husband and wife doubles. The other was at 9.0 mixed doubles team nationals. Now, she gets to enjoy the exercise and watch her kids start their sports careers.

On the flip side, VanDonslear is only getting started. He has participated in four tournaments this summer with plans to compete in two more.

“The competition is a lot better (than high school),” VanDonslear said. “I have a tournament in Kansas City next weekend, which is high-level competition. I’m going to play one more in Iowa City after that.”

Right now, his eyes are set on the east coast to play college tennis in 2020.

“The goal is Division I,” VanDonslear said. “If I go Division II or high-level Division III tennis, I’ll be satisfied — whatever the perfect fit for me is.”

While VanDonslear is working on his game to earn a scholarship, Fleming hopes to continue her tradition at the Iowa Open for years to come.

“I’ve never set foot on the court and not wanted to win,” Fleming said. “I’m pretty competitive. I still feel just as competitive even though they’re my friends.”

When asked how long she plans to play for, her response was golden:

“As long as I can walk.”

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