By Thomas Regan
With her tennis career coming to a close, Alison Noll not only had to battle an All-Academic athlete from Drexel on Oct. 26 but also to fight back tears through both sets.
The match would be the last time Noll would play for Rider, and emotions got the best of her as she lost only her second match all season to Nicole Pivonka, by a score of 1-6, 3-6.
Head Coach Douglas Potkay explained that she was upset about playing her final match and that impacted her performance.
“It was sad,” Potkay said. “We played Drexel and it didn’t go well because, I think, she was really down on this being the last hurrah for her. I didn’t see the intensity in that match I normally see until the second set. But by then, I think she was somewhat emotionally drained. She was crying a bit afterwards and Drexel is a pretty good team, so it was nothing to be ashamed about.”
Throughout her short time as a member of the rebuilding tennis program, Noll, a transfer from Mercer County Community College, has been a bright spot.
She sports a first-singles record of 16-11 in her three-semester Rider career, and this fall she had her best season, winning 98 games and only losing 54 en route to 7-2 record. However, if Noll’s original tennis plans had played out, an Atlantic 10 team would have enjoyed her success.
Four years ago, Noll joined St. Joseph’s tennis team, but after just one week determined she would be better off closer to home.
“I was gone for a week and I came home in the summer of 2010,” Noll said. “I had no plans on going to college in the fall. I had no commitments to anywhere and my dad said, ‘What about looking into Mercer?’”
While Noll, from Monmouth Junction, N.J., was not a fan of the idea of going to a community college, she decided to give the nearby school a shot. But after everything that happened with St. Joe’s, she was no longer interested in playing tennis.
“I had no intentions of joining the tennis team,” Noll said. “I didn’t reach out to the coach. No one knew that I was there; I was just focused on getting back on track from everything that happened over the summer. I’ve actually known the coach from Mercer for a long time and I finally reached out to him and I asked if I could come to practice one day. He still didn’t know I was at the school, he just thought I was asking to come out to practice, and I told him ‘Yeah, I’m here.’”
The decision to join the Mercer team netted immediate results for Noll, as she won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) title in her freshman year. She became the first women’s tennis player to win the NJCAA championship and proved that she made the right decision. At the end of an undefeated sophomore season, Noll repeated as the NJCAA champion, concluding her Mercer career with immense success.
During that time, Noll rebuilt her dream of playing Division I tennis, and Rider proved to be the best fit.
“Rider was close to home,” Noll said. “Again, I could commute, and it’s only like 20 minutes away. I knew they had a good communications program, which I’m studying, I had the opportunity to play first singles, so I was able to fulfill all of those dreams of mine after high school.”
In her first year at Rider, Noll held only a 9-9 record between the fall and spring seasons, but felt it was easy for her to acclimate to a new team because of now-retired Head Coach Ed Torres’ relaxed personality.
“Coach Torres was very laid back and he was a fun guy,” Noll said. “He’s been around here for 19 years, so he’s a favorite at this school, and everybody loves him. He was a great guy and fun to play for. It was more of a laid-back environment with Coach Torres and the girls made the atmosphere more serious and more fun.”
After Torres retired, Rider hired Head Coach Douglas Potkay, and Noll’s record improved to 7-2 in her final season as a Bronc. Noll credits her success to Potkay’s desire to push his players to be the best they can.
“Coach Potkay came in, he was very serious, down to work,” Noll said. “‘Let’s get wins, we’re changing the program, we’re improving it step by step.’ It was great playing for him, with someone who’s busting my butt every day and getting me into shape and wanting me to win.”
Potkay believes Noll’s competitive attitude, coupled with her hard work in practice, led to her successful season.
“All the credit goes to her. She’s a highly competitive player in practice and in a match, especially in a match,” Potkay said. “And she hates to lose. So, I think a lot of her success is when she does come to practice; she’s one of the hardest players training out there. She’s an intense type of player and when she goes on those tennis courts, she’s there to win and I’m not sure how. She is a competitor, no doubt about it.”
Being around tennis for most of her life, Noll attributes her competitive nature to having an older brother she was always trying to surpass.
“Growing up with my brother, I always took it as a competition with him,” Noll said. “We went to the same high school, so if he won this tournament in high school, I wanted to win that tournament. He got a scholarship and I wanted to get a scholarship. If he played Division II, I wanted to play Division I.”
In addition to her brother, her dad played tennis, and the whole family had an influence on her to gain a love for the game early in life.
“I started playing tennis at the age of probably five. I picked up a racquet and started in junior tennis,” Noll said. “I probably started competitively playing when I was like 13-14, when I got really serious with it.”
Despite the fact that her family was tennis-oriented, her parents never forced the sport on her and they always supported whatever she decided to do, which is the main reason they are such important figures in her life.
“My parents never pushed me to play, they weren’t like, ‘you’re playing this sport, you’re getting up to practice,’” Noll said. “If I wanted to play, I’d play. If I wanted to put the racquet down for a few weeks, I’d put it down. There was no forcing me to play. They never got me to a point where I’d hate the sport.”
Now Noll will graduate in December with a record of 16-11 as a Bronc.
She doesn’t want to leave the game and would love to pursue coaching as a career, possibly right out of college.
“I do love being on the court right now, not only in terms of playing, but I do teach tennis,” she said. “That’s what I have been doing for the last few summers. So there are tennis clubs that I’ll be reaching out to. There are people I know that are interested already in hiring me once the semester is over. Talking to Coach Potkay, maybe doing some assistant coaching for the [Rider] girls and guys in the spring.”
Potkay, who transitioned from a Rider player to a coach himself, thinks Noll would make a great coach, but mentions that it’s not an easy move to make.
“What better person — a competitor who knows how to practice,” Potkay said. “She leads the players, so I think she’d be very good at coaching. Though, she has to scale it back a little bit because she is no longer a player.”