The Ithaca College women’s tennis team is gearing up for another run at the Liberty League title after it lost to Vassar College in the semifinals last season. The Bombers are looking to make a statement and play deep into the conference playoffs, and the excitement was palpable as they defeated the Houghton College Highlanders 9–0 on Feb. 18 in their season opener.
Of the nine-women roster, the Bombers only have one first-year student taking the court this season. The veteran leadership and experience is something the team feels like is one of its strengths. Last season, the Bombers finished their regular season play with a 13–7 overall record and a stellar 8–1 record at home.
Head coach Chris Hayes ’16 said that some of his biggest goals for this upcoming season include maintaining the success the Bombers enjoyed last year, as well as the continued development of the roster as a whole.
“I want to continue to make an impact in the Liberty League,” Hayes said. “Finishing top four last year was a big accomplishment for the program, and we want to keep that upward trend. Most importantly, I want to see our players keep improving and taking our game to the next level.”
Senior Caroline Herz, who finished her junior season with a singles record of 7–2 and a 4–0 doubles record, said the team has been putting in the hours over the past several months in preparation for their spring slate of opponents. Herz said over winter break, the team practiced different combinations of doubles partners in order to develop chemistry on the court.
“We have been working with new teams and trying to figure out what’s going to give us the best shot at winning some doubles matches,” Herz said. “I feel like there’s going to be a big emphasis on doubles this season.”
As she continues her senior season, Herz said she recognizes her role as one of the captains of this roster. She said that she is making a conscious effort to be more outwardly positive and enthusiastic in practice, as the rest of the team benefits from good energy.
“I’ve been working really hard to set a positive example, and I feel like people will follow that,” Herz added. “Just having a good attitude and competitive atmosphere in practice will directly translate to our matches.”
Both the men’s and women’s tennis programs are coached by Hayes, which offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities for him to display his ability to make adjustments on the fly. Hayes said he enjoys the uncommon position he holds and said it was a strength for both programs. Considering his role on both teams to be a strength, Hayes said the coaching staff is approaching the season with its head on a swivel with the ability to recalibrate quickly if needed.
“I think it helps our culture because the two teams do a lot together off the court,” Hayes said. “It’s a lot of work, doing both, but it’s well worth it in the end because you get to see the finished product. It’s really like one big team.”
Because the team’s roster is smaller in number than in prior seasons — with an average roster hosting 10–15 athletes — it becomes especially important that all of the athletes remain connected. Sophomore Taylor Crain said that Hayes has made it a point of emphasis to ensure that all the players are in sync with one another.
“Coach has been doing a great job of making sure we are all united, especially because we are such a small team,” Crain said. “He’s been having us work hard in practice at getting our consistency back after the long offseason.
Crain added that the team had a rigorous offseason regimen to stay in top physical shape. The team participated in conditioning, lifting and drills designed by Vic Brown, the college’s head coach of strength and conditioning.
“We conditioned twice a week, did a lot of footwork drills and lifted all offseason,” Crain said. “We know we have to level up this season. I would say everyone is all tuned up and ready to go.”
While the Bombers have never reached the Liberty League playoffs since joining the conference in 2017, the team has some big aspirations for where they want to end up. This year, the team expects to be competing right alongside defending conference champion Skidmore College, who have captured the past 11 conference titles.
“Skidmore and Vassar are going to be tough outs, they are both really well coached,” Hayes said. “[Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] is also going to be good competition for us. I know the whole team is looking forward to their Senior Day match against RPI.”
The Bombers will continue their season on the road when they take on the Skidmore College Thoroughbreds at 10 a.m. March 4 in Saratoga Springs.