By: Seamus Geoghegan
After their Monday practice, the team discussed their upcoming events for the week while sharing homemade chocolate chip cookies under the baking sun.
This is just one example of team moments that head coach Mary Graber is looking to foster, after returning to the team and replacing former head coach Kelly Hickey who took up a role on Mercy high school’s tennis team in Burlingame.
Graber has been with the college for 32 years, 15 of those spent coaching the Rams side. Coming originally from an assistant coaching role at Berkeley after her playing career, Graber returned to the side this year and tried to use the experiences she’s had from her playing days to create the best environment for her players.
“I think tennis should be enjoyed. I mean, you’re here to play and have fun with your fellow classmates and teammates, and you’re here to enjoy your passion,” Graber said. “Yes, we’re here to learn and yes, we’re here to improve, but if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, and feeling good about yourself … that’s what my motto is, feel good.”
David Swanson has been an assistant with the tennis team ever since he took Graber’s class at City College.
“I was interested in how really skillful coaches do things,” Swanson said. “When I took Mary’s class, I thought ‘Oh wow.’”
Through teaching her courses at City College, Graber has recruited most of her team. With only 3 players returning from previous years, Graber has had to rebuild the Women’s Tennis team from scratch.
Strength in Diversity
“We have every age [on the team], we have every background,” Graber said, adding “It’s representative of the city that we play in and tennis should be. That’s what tennis is all about. It’s not just meant for a certain class of background people.”
Graber is out on the court from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. daily, giving her players the freedom to practice on days that they don’t have other commitments.
“They’re mothers, they’ve got jobs, they’ve got conflicts with labs or whatever,” Graber said. “I love the fact that there’s more of a commitment this year, that certain players will say they’re going to be here and they’re here … I’m working with those people that want to be here.”
Selena Santiago-Cruz is one of 15 players listed on the roster for this season, but also one of the few players to return to the team which hasn’t played since 2020.
“I took a beginners course because I didn’t know anything about tennis … so I didn’t join the team until 2020,” Santiago-Cruz said. “By that time COVID already came, so the rest of the season was pretty much dismissed.”
Under both former coach Hickey and coach Graber, Santiago-Cruz has been able to improve and learn the game.
“One of the most important parts for me [is that] I like to see my progress, and I like to advance, and I like to challenge myself,” Santiago-Cruz said. “Even if I know my opponent might be overpowering me, I’m still gonna try.”
Graber has worked around the differing skill levels of players on the team, molding each practice based on the needs of players who attend.
“I try to make us work out according to those players that come,” Graber said. “We have an emphasis of the day, what we’re trying to work on … Friday they could not hit a serve on the court so we started with serving today.”
“A really good coach gets a whole variety of different skill levels and different backgrounds,” Swanson said. “It’s difficult to coach everybody on the team, but she does the best she can. And in my opinion, she does a great job.”
Due to the warm environment that Graber has created, the team has been able to bond and enjoy playing tennis as she intended.
“I feel like all those practices that I go to [are] pretty fun,” Santiago-Cruz said. “The time just goes by so fast, our team this year is amazing.”
“I think it’s definitely a very cool experience, especially at the college level,” Swanson said. “All of our team members are enjoying the sport, enjoying the camaraderie, and building a bond with each other which I think is very important.”
After their game versus American River was postponed, the team headed into their first game since the 2020 season versus Monterey Peninsula with the Rams being the traveling side. Despite the Lobos being the home side, the Rams persevered and beat Monterey 7-2, marking their first win since their 2020 season.
“I think our team this year is really amazing. Just how well we’re pulling through together,” Santiago-Cruz said. “I really can’t wait to see just how much we set these courts on fire.”
The Rams’ next game will be away at Foothill college, Tuesday, Feb. 15th.