William McCormack, Contributing Photographer and Yale Athletics

The resumption of athletic competition this fall has brought about a new life for athletes and Bulldog fanatics on campus. For most of Yale’s athletic population, this fall is the first step towards a grand return to normalcy, but it’s something more for Rachel Kahan: her debut as Yale’s new women’s tennis head coach.

The former women’s tennis coach at Division III NESCAC school Middlebury, Kahan won the Yale coaching job this summer and was formally announced as the new head coach for Yale women’s tennis on Jul. 8. The position Kahan filled was vacant after former head coach Danielle McNamara stepped down in June 2021. McNamara served as head coach in two separate stints, from 2006 to 2014 and from 2016 to 2021, but could not be reached for comment on the reason for her departure.

During her tenure, McNamara coached two All-Americans, led Yale to their best Intercollegiate Tennis Association-ranked season in history — the Bulldogs were 18th in the country — and led the Elis to their first-ever NCAA women’s tennis tournament win. The Bulldogs were ranked number 47 by the ITA and sat at a 9–3 record when athletic competition was cut short due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

But with sports returning, Kahan showed confidence that Yale can continue the successes set by McNamara.

“I believe our team will be extremely competitive this year,” Kahan wrote in an email to the News. “I am impressed with our team’s [work] ethic and talent, and we really look forward to competing together as a team. It was a very difficult two years for them that I think they handled really well. I am trying to establish great relationships with all of the student-athletes and not only get to know their games but get to know them better in general as people.”

This year’s roster features 11 tennis players who will compete in a range of tournaments this fall, including the Bulldog Invitational, which Yale will host on the weekend of Sept. 24th. The team includes four seniors — Caroline Dunleavy ’22, Jessie Gong ’22, Raissa Lou ’22 and Kathy Wang ’22. — two of whom will compete at the Columbia Invitational this weekend.

While the roster may be loaded with talent, according to Dunleavy, Kahan has been instrumental in helping the women knock the rust off in early practices.

“Rachel has been a great leader these past few weeks,” Dunleavy said. “It’s challenging to resume team competitions after such a long hiatus, but she’s done a great job in helping us think through the process and feeling confident on court. Rachel has done a great job in creating a shared vision after so much time apart from one another, and our team is more motivated and excited than ever to be back on court and [compete] alongside each other.”

The Bulldogs will get their first chance to flaunt their rekindled confidence this weekend at the Columbia Invitational hosted by Columbia University. The competition is the first of several invitational tournaments Yale will participate in this semester, including one of four hosted by Ivy League institutions. Dartmouth and Brown will host the Bulldogs later this fall, and Yale will host other teams from the Northeast at the Bulldog Invitational next weekend.

Dunleavy, Gong, Rhea Shrivastava ’23 and Mirabelle Brettkelly ’25 will represent Yale this weekend in New York. According to Shrivastava, the preparation process has been grinding forward, with Kahan at the helm of the charge.

“Coach Kahan has been really helpful as we are getting back into the swing of things after a really long break from competing,” Shrivastava wrote in an email to the News. “She’s been focusing on making sure everyone is slowly starting to feel good about their game again. She has been really receptive to feedback and trying to tailor practice so we can all work on different aspects of our game which has been really helpful leading up this weekend.”

She added that Yale has played several practice matches over the last week in preparation for the invitational and that the team is excited they will “finally be able to compete” again.

Kahan herself acknowledged that the Columbia Invitational will definitely be a stepping stone for more intense competition later in the fall, but that nevertheless, it is a great opportunity for team growth. 

“Columbia Invitational is a great opportunity for some of our players,” Kahan said. “We are using this next weekend, whether they are traveling or not, to get matches in and get ready for our Bulldog Invitational the following weekend. Our goal for the Columbia Invitational is to compete hard. It is unrealistic to think we will be playing our best, but we want to compete hard and continue to learn and get better every single time we step out onto the court.”

The Columbia Invitational will take place at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY from Sept. 17-19.