By Braedan Shea
The Springfield College men’s and women’s tennis teams didn’t quite get off to the start they expected this fall season.
But that hasn’t slowed either program down.
In the early days of September, then head coach Mike Louis stepped down after four years of leading both programs. In just that short amount of time, Louis made quite the impact on Alden Street, especially on the women’s side.
The 2022 women’s tennis team registered the most wins in Division III program history with 13. In 2021, Louis became the first-ever Springfield College coach to collect the NEWMAC Coach of the Year recognition in the sport of women’s tennis, as he led the Pride to the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament and clinched a spot in the NEWMAC Championship for the first time in program history.
While some may have questioned the future of both programs, new lead coach, Rachel Ahlmeyer, has made quite the statement in the fall season. Ahlmeyer, who played for and coached alongside Louis, already looks to be following in his successful footsteps.
Both programs had promising preseasons, as the men’s team finished off the season with a 5-2 overall record, including winning its last three matches in blowout fashion. The women went 2-2, ending their season with a crushing 8-1 victory over Colby-Sawyer.
Amongst those matches, it is clear that the top performers on both sides have something in common: they are mostly underclassmen. On the men’s side, first-year students Phakin Thongbooncharoen (4-2) and Marc Villanueva Abad (5-2), along with sophomore Zach Taub (4-2) carried the best singles records. For doubles, when Marc Villanueva Abad and graduate student James Foley were paired together, they didn’t suffer any losses (3-0). The men are also led by sophomore Waseem Sablon, who was the team’s ace last season.
On the women’s side, the best performers were first-year Emma Aberle and sophomore Ramida Manataweewat, who both sported 3-1 singles records. When paired together, the two had an unbeaten doubles record of 4-0.
Ahlmeyer was happy with how both teams performed, and was especially pleased with the performances of the first-year players, and how comfortable they already look.
“I’m very impressed with how the fall season went for both genders,” Ahlmeyer said. “They honestly had a lot of resilience. We are a really strong, really young team this year, and we have a lot of really great freshmen on both sides integrated really nicely into the program. It seems like they have been a part of the program far longer than they have been.”
With both teams ending their seasons on a high note, both players and coaches find that they are heading into the offseason, and eventually spring season, in a positive direction
“It’s a big momentum help,” Sablon said. “We not only played well, but it also gives us opportunities to work on the bad; which is a positive… We can only go up from here, not down. I am actually really happy with where we are.”
The thing that will help the team go up is their extreme passion to improve.
“A lot of these athletes really have a strong desire to get better,” Ahlmeyer said. “I think they’re going to spend a lot of time in the offseason, just continuing to play and go to strength and conditioning sessions. It’s only going to just continue to translate into really strong results when we start off with matches again in March.”
Besides doing strength and conditioning work on campus, off of it, the team will be spending time playing matches against one another; in hopes to not only build their games, but also build their relationships.
“I’m going to focus on playing as much as I can, working on my weaknesses,” Sablon said. “There’s also off-campus courts in Enfield [Conn], where [the team] and I are going to get together and play as a team, and keep growing together and building chemistry.”
Coming off of a tough 3-12 campaign in 2021, where they dropped their final ten matches, the men’s team feels that this year’s roster is much stronger.
“I love where the team is right now,” Sablon said. “Last year we were good, but you had to have set people on lines. But now, anyone can play anywhere. You could have the number five kid, and move him up to number three. You got the number two kid playing number one. Not everyone is way better than the other person, we are much more equal. We have such a strong team, I feel that we are going to be much better than last season.”
Ahlmeyer not only agrees with Sablon, but believes that this roster has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory.
“Honestly, I would say on the men’s side, they haven’t looked this strong in years,” Ahlmeyer said. “It probably goes back three or four years at this point. There’s just a different desire within them to continue to get better and to continue to play that high level of tennis.”
To summarize how the fall season went for the Pride programs, Ahlmeyer was appreciative of what she saw.
“I’m really proud of them… They had a rough start just with the change in coaching staff and things like that, but I don’t think they let that really stop them,” Ahlmeyer said. “They wanted to come out guns blazing and really play a strong high level of tennis and I feel like that was their goal, and that’s what they came out and did.”
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College Athletics