By Kylie Owoc
Head coach Tom Merchant and assistant coaches Gina Tomsky and Samantha Stroyne are determined to make the Carlow women’s tennis season the best one that the university has seen yet.
After having a small roster size in most previous seasons, the 2017 team has nearly doubled in size, with 16 players.
Stroyne is also a new addition to the team this year, stepping into an official assistant coach position alongside Tomsky, who has been in the role for seven years. Both are Carlow graduates and former Celtics tennis players.
The new players include four freshmen – Madelyn Clemens (Wellsboro, Pa.), MaryKathryn Hankewycz (Irwin, Pa.), Melanie Long (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Julianna Mamajek (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
Tomsky believes this young group will be extremely competitive.
“The freshmen this year are really taking a strong hold on our upperclassmen,” she said.
They join a group of two new sophomores and 10 returners, including five seniors – Sarah Kupas (Canfield, Pa.), Tira McCall (Allison Park, Pa.), captain Morgan Orr (Leechburg, Pa.), captain Sarah Rupchak (Harrison City, Pa.) and Jen Wright (Wexford, Pa.).
The larger roster size has resulted in some adjustments. Only six players compete in each match, so it will mean less playing time for some. However, since there is more competition for playing time, the Celtics’ practices have become extremely competitive. As a result, the players’ skills are improving dramatically.
Both Tomsky and Stroyne said the seniors have stepped up and moved into leadership roles on the team. This is often expected on the court, but the coaches have been even more encouraged at what the five have shown off the court.
“They are stepping up and really helping our student-athletes that are the underclassmen, helping them understand balancing being a student and an athlete at Carlow,” Tomsky said.
Both coaches stress that it is important to be able to manage being a student and being an athlete, with the role of student being the top priority.
Meanwhile, the team has been training several times a week, and Tomsky already notices a difference in their play.
“This year’s team looks to be the best that we’ve had in 11 years” she said.
The Celtics, who play their home matches at Schenley Park Tennis Courts, will find out soon.
They scrimmaged Seton Hill on March 25. Their first official match, a River States Conference contest, is slated for 10 a.m. Saturday at Alice Lloyd (Ky.) College.