Love Of Game, Family Brought Ismail To Bearcat Tennis|
Jan. 26, 2012
By Shawn Sell
From the time she could walk and hold a racket, tennis was her game. In a family full of tennis-lovers, Safiyya Ismail is carrying a family tradition into her senior season as a Bearcat.
A native of nearby Maineville, Ismail grew up with tennis, due in large part to the career established by her father Shaaheda, the head tennis pro at Harper's Point Tennis Club in Cincinnati. From a young age, Safiyya would spend time at her father's club, learning and beginning to fuel a passion that has carried her through college. But a deeper look at Safiyya's family tree is needed to fully appreciate her tennis upbringing.
"My Dad has been my coach my whole life," Safiyya says. "Growing up, I never really played any other sport. My brother (Ra'ees) played tennis at Xavier, my little sister plays tennis now, I have cousins that played college tennis and my uncle (Haroon Ismail) played on the pro circuit. So it pretty much was never a choice as to what sport I was going to play.
"With my Dad being a tennis pro, I was always at the club playing tennis," she continues. "It is nice to have a family to lean on and they have supported me throughout my life in tennis. I could turn to my brother to practice with; my Dad was my coach and now I find myself coaching my little sister. Everybody knows the game of tennis and it was nice growing up with the family support system." After refining her game under her father's watchful eye as a youth, Ismail moved on to Kings High School where she enjoyed a decorated prep career. During all four years of her career, Ismail was named Fort Ancient Valley Conference Player of the Year and added an even bigger honor, Ohio Division I (the largest division in the state) Player of the Year to her resume as a senior. But true to her form of family first, when it was time to think about college, Ismail knew staying close to home was the right move for her.
"I was always kind of looking to go to UC, but I was looking at some other schools too," she recalls. "I knew some of the girls on the team (here) and I wanted to stay close to home with my family. Cincinnati originally was going to be one of my choices anyway and I am just glad that everything worked out."
So far, things have worked out just fine for Ismail. Entering this year, she has enjoyed success as both a singles and doubles player, posting a career 35-30 singles mark and teaming with various players through the years for a 39-27 doubles tally. Even with all those victories, perhaps Ismail's biggest win came prior to the start of the Bearcats' fall season when head coach Angela Wilson tabbed her team captain. It's a job Ismail doesn't plan on taking lightly.
"I feel really, really honored to be team captain," she says. "It means a lot to me. It's been a great four years; I remember coming in as a freshman being really scared and not really mature yet. I have learned so much from the team captains and I've always looked up to them when I was younger. Now that I am a team captain, I feel honored that my coach has seen how much I've learned and how I am a leader now and have taken all these lessons to heart. It means a lot to me and shows that all my hard work has paid off. It's definitely a blessing and an honor."
In true captain's fashion, Ismail doesn't enter her senior season with individual accolades in mind; instead her main goal is to help her team enjoy a winning campaign. With only six healthy players making up the roster, Ismail knows this season could be a challenge, but she is hopeful nonetheless that her team will succeed.
"I am hopeful we can make the BIG EAST Tournament again and go in as the seventh or eighth ranked team," she says. "Some other goals are to beat Xavier again and just really contribute to a winning record to our team. I hope I can contribute as much as possible in singles and doubles and play my part. Hopefully, we can come together and have a really good season with a winning record."