Last week, the Yeshiva University Maccabees women’s tennis team became the first YU women’s sports team ever to compete in an NCAA tournament. It faced off against Skidmore College on Proctor Tennis Courts in Middlebury, Vermont, on May 10.
Though the team lost to Skidmore, the 12-member squad from YU’s Stern College for Women nevertheless made sports history.
“This team will always be the first women’s program to go to the NCAAs,” Yeshiva University Director of Athletics Joe Bednarsh said. “They are now the giants upon whose shoulders hundreds of young Jewish women will stand each time we take the national stage at what will be many NCAA tournament appearances. I am filled with pride to have been along for the ride with such an incredible group of women.”
Two of the women are from Teaneck: Shana Adler, 20, and Rebecca Packer, 21.
Ms. Adler recalled the feeling of euphoria upon winning the Skyline Conference Championship last October, topping off a 10-1 season and earning the Macs its first-time NCAA berth.
“The entire team worked really hard to get there, and it was incredible,” she said. The women’s team hadn’t reached the conference championship since 1999 and never won it before.
Such an accomplishment is all the more impressive considering that YU athletes, male and female, balance their sports schedule with a dual course load of academic and Judaic studies.
The tennis players are further disadvantaged by having to commute to practice courts. Under head coach Naomi Kaszovitz and assistant coach Danielle Carr, the women regularly make the trek to Queens College and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center from Stern’s midtown Manhattan campus.
Moreover, their practices and matches must be squeezed into a shorter timeframe than usual since the fall season overlaps with YU’s High Holy Days break, and no practices take place on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays.
“We are in class a lot of the day,” Ms. Adler acknowledged. “We’re students before we’re athletes. But we make time for tennis and we all practice as much as we can on our own.”
Her private coach, Steve Jackson, works with her in Johnson Park in Hackensack. She also plays tennis with her sister Shira, 15, a member of the tennis team at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck.
Ms. Adler took up tennis only after she graduated from Ma’ayanot two years ago. “I used to be a competitive gymnast and I wanted to pick up another sport,” she explained.
This was her first season playing for the Macs. After successfully trying out for the team at the start of the school year, “we hit the ground running during orientation, practicing every night until a few weeks after Sukkot.”
Those workouts paid off as Ms. Adler won singles matches against Lehman College and Sarah Lawrence College in September and against the College of Staten Island in October.
Ms. Packer, named Yeshiva University Female Student-Athlete of the Month for October 2017, said she began taking tennis lessons during the summers between her middle-school years at the Moriah School in Englewood and got serious about the sport in high school at SAR in Riverdale.
“I played a lot of other sports also and I realized there’s a big difference with tennis because you don’t have to rely on other people,” Ms. Packer said. “You’re the one making the good plays and the bad plays. It’s all on you and you need to embrace that.”
She’s made the Skyline All-Conference first team both of her years at Stern and won all six of her Skyline doubles matches during the 2017 regular season. Her 6-0 singles record is the best in the conference. She was named the Skyline Conference Rookie of the Week in September 2016 and was inducted into the Skyline Conference Weekly Honor Roll that October.
In the recent Skyline championships, Ms. Packer teamed with senior Shani Hava to win every game in the first doubles position in the semifinal match against Purchase. She earned wins in the first doubles position and as third singles in the championship match against Mount Saint Mary.
“Last year we made it to the semifinals and lost. We were not going to let that happen this year,” she said. “It was our year and we were going to win.”
But before the NCAA tournament against Skidmore, she said, she knew that YU’s odds weren’t good, “so we’re just going to play the best we can and have fun.”
The same day that the women faced Skidmore, the YU men’s tennis team bested Ramapo College in the NCAA Division III tournament; it won its fifth consecutive Skyline Conference Championship last fall. The men lost to Bowdoin in the second round the following day, May 11.
Ms. Kaszovitz, the women’s tennis head coach and a Stern alumna, took stock of the teams’ achievements.
“YU reminds us every day that we can be committed religious Jews and yet fully participate in the world around us, receiving a stellar Jewish and secular education and far-reaching professional opportunities,” she said. “When we’re recruiting, I love explaining to potential applicants the unparalleled opportunity to play high-level NCAA tennis, with accommodations for our observances, while attending a Jewish, academically challenging university. It’s a win-win.”