THE ITHACAN

Accuracy • Independence • Integrity
The Student News Site of Ithaca College

THE ITHACAN

The Student News Site of Ithaca College

THE ITHACAN

Support Us
$1375
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Support Us
$1375
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Serving up success: Pop and Crain dominate doubles with the Bombers

From+left%2C+junior+Taylor+Crain+and+first-year+student+Alys+Pop+have+been+dominating+in+doubles+this+season.+So+far+in+the+season%2C+the+two+hold+a+6%E2%80%933+doubles+record+for+the+Bombers.
Aminatta Imrana Jallow
From left, junior Taylor Crain and first-year student Alys Pop have been dominating in doubles this season. So far in the season, the two hold a 6–3 doubles record for the Bombers.

The Ithaca College women’s tennis team has been benefitting from the addition of five new first-year students for the 2023–24 season. One member in particular, first-year student Alys Pop, has made a big splash alongside a former first-year sensation, junior Taylor Crain. 

Pop, a Colorado native, said she grew up trying many sports and settled on tennis at age 8. She remained committed to the sport and competed for the Niwot High School girls tennis team, where she was first in singles by her senior year, a position given to the strongest player on the team. She was also the team captain for the girls and team manager for the boys team. She played at the 4A level, the second-highest division in Colorado high school tennis and placed fourth in the 2022 Colorado State Championships.

Pop said she was looking to go to school out of state, preferably on one of the coasts, and that the team at the college helped her to cement her decision.

“As much as I love Colorado, I wanted to experience what other states have to offer,” Pop said via email. “My high school adviser encouraged me to apply here and I loved the team environment when I visited.”

When Pop joined the team, she said she also took a job as a children’s tennis instructor at the Cornell University Reis Tennis Center, where she works with beginners to teach them the basic moves of the sport. She also gives private lessons and plays competitive matches with the daughter of a friend, which allows her to both teach and have more practice time. Pop said this job helps her hone her skills and helps translate her play to the collegiate level.

“It’s nice because I get to play competitive matches against her. … She gets used to different playing styles, and I also get more competition too,” Pop said.

Ithaca College head coach Tom Rishcoff said that Pop’s skill level was evident very early on and that he knew she would make an impact immediately.

“She was a player who came in with a high skill level,” Rishcoff said. “I think she was a really solid player from the get-go and also a mature player on the court.”

Pop’s momentum did not stop when she came to South Hill. In Sept. 2023, she made her debut for the Bombers during the fall season at the Hosking Invitational in Geneva, NY. For her very first match, Pop dominated, winning 8–1 against senior captain Gracie Nicol of Union College and made it to the quarter-finals before being eliminated. In Universal Tennis Rating (UTR), an online database that categorizes players based on ability, she is rated a six, which is the second highest on the team, behind doubles partner junior Taylor Crain.

Crain, Pop’s doubles partner, from Cohoes, NY, is the first singles player for the women’s tennis team, a distinction she has held since her first season at Ithaca in 2022. In 2023, she had strong performances, including an appearance in the semifinals in the singles category of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) North East Regional Championships in Geneva, New York.

Pop and Crain competed in doubles at those same ITA Regionals. Though they were eliminated before they could advance to the semifinals, they still had an impressive showing, winning two matches, 8–5 and 8–4.

In their first nine competitions of the 2024 Spring season together, the pair have held up to their number one spot on the team, maintaining a 6–3 record overall and a five match winning streak between March 2 and March 15.

The aspect of having someone to rely on in the heat of competition has been particularly important for Crain, as her doubles partner in the previous season, Caroline Herz23, graduated in Spring 2023. Last year, she and Crain played second in doubles, where they had a 15–3 win-loss record over the entire season, and a seven-match straight win streak. Crain said that the transition was a change but that because of Pop’s skill, the pair could continue the success of 2023’s pairing.

“We were playing second doubles last year and [Herz] and I were very close friends, but I think [Pop] and I have matching game styles and I also get along very well with her,” Crain said. “I think the biggest change was adjusting to a new game style, but it was a lot easier because [Pop] is very talented.” 

With similarities in early dominance and doubles, came an immediate connection. Crain said she and Pop had been in sync since the beginning of practices.

“Our coach was just trying to do a bunch of combinations and [Pop] and I worked really well together from the start,” Crain said. “I think our personalities go really well together and also our playing styles.”

Rishcoff echoed Crain and said the two athletes get along well and are naturally suited to each other, making the pairing deeply effective.

“They work really well together,” Rishcoff said. “I think it’s very natural from the beginning, their energy, the way that they play off of each other, it’s pretty evident that their games match up well on the court.”

Drawing from his own experience in collegiate tennis, Rishcoff said the collaborative nature of doubles competition is beneficial to players since they are able to help each other and fill in the places their partner may fall short.

“When you’re on the doubles court, you have somebody to lean on, somebody to feed off of in terms of energy and somebody to support you when you need it,” Rishcoff said.

Pop said she believes that good communication and their ferocious attitude are crucial factors in their connection and success on the court.

“We have really good chemistry, we’re both very loud, we thrive off energy,” Pop said. “ It’s really nice to have something we clicked so well on.” 

Crain echoed Pop and said that the support goes both ways and they help each other stay focused when they play.

“If I’m down, [Pop] will pick me up, it feels like a puzzle in that way,“ Crain said. “I can tell when she’s mad and we’ll walk back to like the curtain and try to slow down a little bit.”

Pop also credits the tennis team as a whole with taking her in, being good leaders and making her feel welcome. She said that being new on the team does not have an impact on how she is treated.

“The upperclassmen embraced all of us freshmen and taught us the ropes of the team and how everything works being a collegiate tennis player,” Pop said. “I didn’t realize how meaningful it was when I first started, but looking back, having that support system, that was instant best friends from the get-go. It really helped the college transition be a lot easier.”

Rishcoff said he believes the pair is capable of handling the challenges that the rest of the season may hold.

“They compete really hard, and they compete with a lot of spirit and energy,” Rishcoff said.

Crain is optimistic about the pair’s future and thinks they can achieve great results, but also acknowledges that the road ahead will be a difficult one.

“I’ve never really had the opportunity to have such a good partner before, so it’s been a really positive experience. … I think we could even go as far as nationals for doubles,” Crain said. “Knowing we have the capability to one day get to that next level is awesome, but getting there is like building the stepping stones.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to THE ITHACAN
$1375
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support The Ithacan's student journalists in their effort to keep the Ithaca College and wider Ithaca community informed. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Aminatta Imrana Jallow, Photographer
Donate to THE ITHACAN
$1375
$2000
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Ithacan Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *