The tennis team awaits major changes as it gears up for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Championships this coming week, as well as the rest of the year: a new head coach whom Athletics has yet to find and a drastic remodel of Occidental’s courts.
The team’s 2017–2018 coach, Rachel Manasse, announced her leave in August to accept a volunteer assistant coach position at the University of Southern California, concluding her one year at Occidental. According to Interim Athletic Director Rob Flot, a search committee in Athletics aims to hire a replacement by Oct. 1.
“She came over and really changed the whole program,” men’s team captain Cameron Coe (senior) said. “She brought in a completely new work ethic, created discipline, more accountability, a harder practice and lifting schedule. And as a result, we had a lot better of a season.”
Under Manasse’s coaching, both teams placed in the ITA’s top 20 final rankings for the West Region: the men’s team placed 16th and the women’s team placed 18th.
Her quick departure is not a stand-alone case for the tennis team — last year coach Ghia Godfree also left after coaching at Occidental for two years. The turnaround then was slightly quicker, and Athletics announced Manasse’s hiring a few weeks after on Sept. 1, according to Occidental Athletics. Before Godfree, basketball coach Brian Newhall doubled as the coach for the men’s team for several years, not all consecutive. He also subbed for the women’s team, which, until three years ago did not share the same head coach as the men’s team. The position was part-time then, becoming full-time with Godfree’s arrival.
The NCAA sets limits on required practices and the weeks in which they can occur — at this time and until the declared playing season, all activities must be voluntary and informal. Without a coach, women’s team captain Nicole Pelletier (senior) says that their approach to practicing is noticeably different.
“We definitely take it seriously, but our focus right now is more on each other,” said Pelletier. “We want to introduce the [first years], focusing on the team and cohesion, and making sure people are enjoying themselves rather than being really serious about lifting and practicing. When a coach does come, we want to utilize that and optimize our intensity.”
Manasse left the team with an unofficial fall schedule, which the captains are using as a rough outline as they help organize the team in her absence.
“I think having that structure is helpful,” Coe said. “When you have a coach giving you advice on technique and strategy, it’s always a bonus. It’s different coming from your teammates. But everyone’s been really positive about it. Everyone’s approached it the right way. I think it really just attributes to how good teammates everyone on the team is and how motivated they are to get through this.”
Within the past year, the school has also been working on building two new courts, in addition to the existing four. Because the current courts sit on top of the facilities building, a new building is necessary for the courts to be level with the rest, according to Athletics Director of Operations Cori Vallembois. It is currently still in the foundational stages, but the projected finish date is February 2019.
The ITA does not specify a minimum number of courts needed to hold matches. However, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) does, due to the extra time matches will take overall if there are fewer than six available. As a result, Occidental’s home games have been played at Scholl Canyon, a private golf and tennis club in Glendale.
While preparing for the two new courts, the school decided to allocate extra funds in order to resurface the existing courts as well, rather than repaint as originally planned.
“When the contractor took a look, he took it to Facilities’ attention that the courts are basically near end-of-life,” Vallembois said. “So while it’s going to take the courts offline for a little longer than we thought, in the long run, they will have six new beautiful courts.”
To make time for the construction, the courts will be closed in November until students return in the spring. In the meantime, Pelletier says the team has no specific plans for where they will practice; out of season, it is up to the players to informally find facilities off campus.
At least four players from the tennis team will begin the ITA Regional Championships next week, with the full team beginning its regular season in January.