Ava Carey (left) returns the ball to her VSU-Castleton opponent between points Sept. 6 at the Memorial Hall Tennis Courts. Jacklin Mitchell (right) has been her doubles partner this season.
By Collin Bolebruch
“‘I can feel it in my bones, something good is going to happen this season,’” Kelci Henn, head women’s tennis coach, said.
She remembered hearing this from her players all offseason.
“It feels like it’s bound to happen,” Nicole Svantner, captain, said.
The Plattsburgh Cardinals women’s tennis team missed the SUNYAC playoffs by just one game last season, despite having the second most wins in the conference at 9-5. They haven’t forgotten.
Henn just began her third season coaching the Cards, and it’s her largest team yet. This year, the team will roster 14 players. Last year, her team had nine and in 2020, as director of tennis operations, had just seven. She said the large roster brings unique elements that a smaller roster wouldn’t.
“With more teammates around, the support for each player, and the team camaraderie all around, is a really big difference compared to last year,” Henn said. “They’re able to be together, support each other, sit by each other’s court.”
This season the team has four seniors: Sarah Benowitz and triplets Jackie, Nicole and Samantha Svantner. The group consists of the last remaining players from Henn’s first season as head coach. They’ve known each other since before middle school, being from rival high schools in Rockland County, New York.
“Those women have grown along with me and worked through my own coaching quirks,” Henn said. “They’ve come such a long way and really matured and I’m very proud of them.”
Other returning players include juniors Sophia Gottschall and Hallie Hurwitz and sophomore Abigail Jarrett.
Hurwitz and Nicole Svantner will serve as team captains this season. Svantner was the junior captain last season, and takes pride in her status among her teammates.
“I feel like I’ve always been one to take charge and be the communicator,” Svantner said. “I’m also Kelci’s middle man, I’m that connection between the team and the coach.”
Hurwitz didn’t expect to be in her position this season. She wasn’t gunning for captain at all, but heading into the season, she felt a new, excited feeling and began to mesh well with her new teammates. Being voted captain shocked her.
“I had to think about it for a couple of minutes because it is a big responsibility. I am so happy I took the position because I still feel really close with the whole team,” Hurwitz said. “It’s a big step for me to be in a leadership position.”
This year, the team welcomes first-year players Ava Carey and Jacklin Mitchell, sophomore Kristy Cantwell, Jenna Medina and Faith Stone and juniors Andrea Bingham and Megan Phelps.
Henn said the new roster construction is going to benefit the team this season, and it’s shown. The Cardinals are currently 3-1, which is the best start to a Henn-led team yet.
“It’s a big competitive edge, which is something I’ve been looking for,” Henn said. “With a small team, it’s nice, everybody gets to play and everybody has a spot, but once you start adding in more players to the mix, it lights the fire under each player to play up and continue pushing not only themselves but each other.”
The newcomers aren’t taking a backseat either. Mitchell is undefeated in singles play to start the season taking matches 6-0, 6-0; 6-2, 6-3; and 6-2, 6-0. Carey has shown strong wins too, at 2-2, taking matches 6-1, 6-1 and 6-2, 6-0. Mitchell and Carey make up one of the three doubles teams the Cardinals have rolled out this season, with a 1-3 record.
The other two duos consist of Hurwitz and Jackie Svantner and Nicole and Samantha Svantner. The upperclassmen doubles have been impressive in games so far, notching 3-1 records each.
The team is 13-8 in singles overall. Nicole Svantner has a 3-1 individual record and earned SUNYAC Singles Athlete of the Week, Sept. 5. Carey and Samantha Svantner trail just behind at 2-2 each.
“[Depth] really helps us secure those lower singles spots, like the four, five and six, because those are the ones, if you don’t have a deeper roster, you can start to lose those ones,” Hurwitz said. “You really want to get those ones when you can.”
To make the playoffs this year, and meet their expectations, the Cardinals need to perform in conference play and better last season’s 3-4 SUNYAC record. The team currently stands at 3-1, losing its only conference game to the Oneonta Red Dragons (3-2, SUNYAC 2-1).
Oneonta is a formidable opponent, finishing second in the conference last season, with just one SUNYAC loss. The Cardinals’ lone winning match was Mitchell’s single win over Illana Ger.
Plattsburgh continues conference play today, Sept. 15, when it visits the Cortland Red Dragons (2-1, SUNYAC 2-0), a playoff team last season, and the Oswego Lakers (2-2, SUNYAC 2-1) tomorrow, Sept. 16.
For games to circle on the calendar, the Cardinals will host the Farmingdale Rams Sept. 23 for Senior Day, and play the SUNYAC champion New Paltz Hawks (SUNYAC 1-0) at home Sept. 30. Plattsburgh will travel to Binghamton Oct. 5, where it will take on the Brockport Golden Eagles (1-3, SUNYAC 0-2) Oct. 5, the SUNYAC runner-up Geneseo Knights (2-1) Oct. 6 and the Fredonia Blue Devils (SUNYAC 0-2) Oct. 7.
“If you could mic us up and hear us during practice, especially the returners, all of us are just going, ‘This season’s different,’” Hurwitz said. “‘We’re going to the final four.’”