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Women’s tennis returns to the court with young squad

From+left%2C+junior+captain+Eliana+Chelnick%2C+senior+captain+Isabelle+Bennett+and+new+head+coach+Tom+Rishcoff+will+look+to+lead+the+Bombers+back+to+prominence+after+a+2023+season+that+saw+the+team+finish+with+an+8%E2%80%9310+record.%0A
Maddy Tanzman, Kaeleigh Banda
From left, junior captain Eliana Chelnick, senior captain Isabelle Bennett and new head coach Tom Rishcoff will look to lead the Bombers back to prominence after a 2023 season that saw the team finish with an 8–10 record.

As the new season approaches, the Ithaca College women’s tennis team prepares to embark on another year of competition with a revamped squad. 

Last season, the Bombers placed 6th in the Liberty League with a 35 conference record and an 810 regular season record. The Bombers have a 10 player roster this season, with only four of nine players from last year’s team returning.

This year’s squad features five first-year students and returning junior Lauren Rodriguez, who played as a first-year student but was not on the roster as a sophomore. The Bombers’ returning players are sophomore Sabrina Cheung, junior captains Taylor Crain and Eliana Chelnick and senior captain Isabelle Bennett. 

Crain was named All-Liberty League first team both as a first-year student and as a sophomore last year. This season she will be joining forces with first-year student Alys Pop in the No. 1 doubles spot. During the fall season, Crain and Pop made it to the semifinals in the ITA Division III Women’s Northeast Regional Championships and should be a duo to watch.

Bennett believes this team has a high level of potential and that everyone on the team is dedicated to improving. She said the team is taking the season day by day, but they are still working hard for tough competition, with the Bombers facing multiple top 40 schools this year like Hamilton College, Skidmore College, Vassar College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“It’s good to take it one match at a time, but we always have our competitive schools, and we’ve been practicing really hard each and every day,” Bennett said. “I think we’re gonna have a really good season.”

In addition, Bennett talked about the work shifting from the fall to the spring. During the fall, the team would practice, but it was less involved than it is now. The team is now in full season, winning their first two matches 8–1 against Drew University and 5–4 against the University of Rochester. However, they lost their third match 7–2 against Smith College.

They practice one and a half hours a day and lift twice a week. During the fall, they were still lifting twice a week, but their practices were not as intense as now, according to Bennett. In addition, head coach Tom Rischcoff said he likes to focus mainly on training during the fall, so they can address areas they want to improve on when it gets to the main season in the spring.

Rishcoff will spend his first season with the South Hill Squad after previously spending the past 2022–23 season as the assistant coach with the Middlebury College women’s tennis team, who placed No. 5 in the country with a 17–4 record and made it to the NCAA semifinals. Rishcoff said he is excited to be part of this program and thinks it is not only strong athletically but academically.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Rishcoff said. “I’ve really, really loved it. My first fall here I thought was a great experience. I’m excited to be part of the community here. I think the athletics and the academics here go hand in hand, which is a great thing when you’re coming into a new program. So I’m excited that we have a great schedule ahead of us this spring, and I’m looking forward to getting back on court with the new team.”

Bennett said that while she will miss former head coach Chris Hayes 16, Rishcoff has integrated with the team exceptionally well and while winning is a goal of his, he primary focus is individual development.

“Coach Hayes was a really incredible coach and those shoes are hard to fill, but Tom is doing great,” Bennett said. “We all love him, and he’s really supportive and welcoming, and he’s got to know all of us on a personal level. He has very high expectations and I think we’re going to have a really successful year with him.”

In addition to Rishcoff, Mari Mitchell has joined the roster as the assistant coach. Mitchell played on the women’s tennis team at Cornell University from 199498 and was named an All-American in 1998. She also served as assistant coach for Cornell University women’s tennis from 19982000 and was most recently the varsity head coach for Ithaca High school from 201920, where she was named ESPN Ithaca Coach of the Year. Rishcoff gave Mitchell high praise, and said she makes sure to check on her athletes both on and off the court.

“That’s one thing I’m really excited about,” Rishcoff said. “Mari [has] brought a ton of value to our program right off the bat. … I think her ability to really develop the players on the team and also build connections, the players have really taken to her really quickly. Her ability to support the players on and off court has been unmatched. So she brings this really great energy to our team and she adds a ton of value. 

Chelnick said that the two coaches make a great tandem and that she is excited to see where they take the team this year.

“Together they’re a good team,” Chelnick said. “I mean, it literally takes a village for a sports team, because it’s [a] huge time commitment, there’s so many things you have to do: recruiting, practice [and] probably a bunch of administrative work as well.”

Chelnick and Bennett were named team captains for the first time this season. With this role, Chelnick said she is trying to lead by example.

“I think being captain, it’s an honor. It’s a privilege, but it’s also an opportunity to, like, set an example,” Chelnick said. “Younger players, they might be less mature. They might have less experience. So they’re going to emulate what you put out there. So it’s very important to set a good example for them of what’s acceptable and what’s not.”

Rishcoff said the way he builds team chemistry and a winning culture is by finding value in every single one of his players and making everyone feel comfortable.

“The beauty of college tennis, it’s the only place where you can find a team environment within tennis,” Rishcoff said. “So I think finding the value that every single person brings to the team is really important. And then really respecting and creating an environment that really is cohesive and invites people from different backgrounds. It makes people feel comfortable and part of something bigger than themselves, so you know, at the end of day, I always talk about it’s the person before the player. So treating each person like a human being and making sure everybody feels comfortable in the same environment.”

For their next match, the Bombers will face the St. Lawrence University Saints at 10 a.m. March 2 in Canton, New York.

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Flynn Hynes
Flynn Hynes, Assistant Sports Editor
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