By Braedan Shea
Following the 1997-1998 collegiate year, the New England Women’s 8 Conference (NEW 8) voted to begin sponsoring conference play and championships for men, establishing itself as the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). During this time, the conference expanded its membership to include two more colleges – the United States Coast Guard Academy and Springfield College.
But since becoming a part of the NEWMAC in 1998, the Springfield College women’s tennis team has struggled to advance in the conference tournament – only ever getting as far as the quarterfinals eight times, most recently in 2019. However, this could change this season, thanks to one very impressive senior: Rielly Malz.
Growing up in South Glastonbury, Conn., Malz found a passion for the sport at a young age. After trying many different athletics as a child, tennis was the one that stood out the most. “My parents just put me and my sisters in a bunch of different sports when we were little, including tennis, and I just kind of stuck with it,” Malz said.
She didn’t just stick with it – she became a star. Playing for her hometown high school of Glastonbury High, Malz and her team won the Class L state singles championship during her junior year, taking down women’s tennis juggernaut Staples; who had beaten Glastonbury in the previous two state championships.
Following another great season in her senior year, during which she got all the way back to the state championship before falling once again to Staples, Malz knew that she wanted to play at the collegiate level. But, academics were her main priority, more specifically going into the field of medicine. It just so happened that Springfield College could offer both.
“I knew that I wanted to keep playing tennis in college if it was possible,” Malz said. “But I was looking at academics first, and I knew that I wanted to go to the medical field. I talked to a lot of my family and friends and shadowed a bunch of PAs, which is what eventually got my heart set on that. I was looking at schools with PA programs where I could also play tennis, and when I came to campus, I just fell in love with it. I felt at home. It was awesome. I knew I wanted to come here.”
Even though she was very fond of the school, actually deciding to come was a little difficult at first. Malz believed that she wanted to branch out and have a school of her own – the one thing that Springfield couldn’t offer; as her mother, Kimberly, is an alumna.
“I was trying to be stubborn and say I wouldn’t go to the same school as her,” Malz said. “I was determined to hate it. But I just couldn’t find something to hate.”
Being an athlete while also in the PA program is easier said than done. Finding the time to balance both is not something many can do. Although she acknowledges that doing both is a challenge, Malz generally finds it quite helpful.
“Some days it’s hard,” Malz said. “But overall, I think it really helps me with time management. I know that I have practice or lift at a certain time, so I have to get my assignments done before then, or I know that I’m going to be busy on the weekend. It forces me to do more work during the week. Some days it’s definitely challenging, but usually, it’s kind of helpful.”
While the work in the classroom may be challenging, outside of it is a different story. This season’s women’s tennis team raced to a 7-0 start. It appeared as if this could be the year they finally bring home a NEWMAC championship, something that Malz admits she wants to accomplish.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve been a part of in my four years here – mobility-wise and just attitude-wise. Everyone’s really upbeat and happy and working hard every single day,” she said. “We’ve come a long way this season, and we definitely have a better shot than we’ve had in all my years here.”
After its strong start, the team eventually hit a rough patch in the middle of the season, tying once and dropping four. But the Pride have completely turned back around, winning four of their last five. Malz has been great, sporting a 10-2 overall singles record.
The NEWMAC women’s tennis championship tournament begins on May 3. Springfield (4-3-0 in conference with one dual match remaining) is currently seeded fourth and will likely face No. 5 seed, Smith. Previously, Springfield edged out Smith at home, 5-4, on April 16.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics