Q&A: Alisha Chulani on her time with the CMS women’s tennis team

Alisha Chulani HM ’25 during a victory over MIT at the ITA indoor championships on March 4. Courtesy: CMS Athletics

Last season, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) women’s tennis team won the NCAA Division III National Championship for the second time in program history. Alisha Chulani HM 25 sat down with TSL to discuss her experience on the CMS women’s tennis team, winning the National Championship and her goals for the 2023 season. 

TSL: Can you talk about your background and experience with tennis and how you got into the sport?

Alisha Chulani: I started playing [tennis] at about eight or nine years old. My parents wanted to put me in sports so I could have something to do and stay healthy, so I actually used to swim and play tennis … When I was about 13, my coach at the time told my parents that they should put me into tournaments because I was pretty competitive and it seemed like I enjoyed it. My parents did not grow up in the [United States] so they did not know anything about competitive tennis or [the junior circuit], so I sort of came in blind. [My parents] signed me up for a tournament and I had a lot of fun and it’s just gone from there. 

TSL: Can you talk about how you are able to balance both your academic and athletic commitments as a student-athlete at Harvey Mudd College? 

AC: It is tough to find a healthy balance, especially when a lot of my team goes to Claremont McKenna [College] and Scripps [College]. It is sometimes really hard to balance [academics and athletics], but I am super thankful for my friends at Harvey Mudd who are either athletes on different teams or even non-athletes because they are always super helpful and understanding with me — they always support me. My teammates are also super understanding, especially the other Mudder on the team … Surrounding myself with people who are super supportive really helps me find a balance. 

TSL: Coming off of a national championship, what was your mindset coming into this season and what are you as an individual and as a team trying to focus on this year?

AC: It’s hard to return as national champions because you don’t want to make that your main focus for the new season. We needed to reset and start fresh because this season does not depend on last season whatsoever. We have a lot of new people both starting and coming in as [first-years] so it’s like a completely new team with a completely new mindset. I think that trying to keep that mindset fresh throughout this season will be super important because we know how hard we worked last year and we want to continue that, but … we don’t want to continuously compare ourselves to last year. 

TSL: What was going through your mind after losing to the University of Chicago early in this season after having beaten them in the national championship finals just last year?

AC: It’s definitely early on in the season and I think this program has a reputation of improving as the year goes on, so keeping that in mind is super important. Last year when we won the natty we were definitely not in prime condition during the early stages of the season. Knowing that we have so much potential to improve and that the real championship is in May is super important. Obviously, it would have been nice to win, but just because that didn’t happen doesn’t mean that we should be discouraged about the rest of the season. 

TSL: What makes this team different from other teams you’ve competed on?

AC: I think we really just play for each other … Fighting for every ball and point is a core value amongst our team and I think it comes from the amount that we care about and compete for each other and our schools. 

TSL: Would you say that the team’s success stems from the culture the team has created and the fact that you play for each other or would you contribute it to something else?

AC: I think [team culture] is definitely a huge part of it, but I also think our coaches have instilled a lot of values of hard work and being smart about the way we play and the way we train. We are successful because we care about each other and we want to achieve something big and great with each other. 

TSL: What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the season?AC: Honestly, I’m just looking forward to getting to compete with my friends. I think [getting to compete with each other] is the reason why we put in so much hard work. We really enjoy spending time with each other and we enjoy the sport. Beyond any big wins, I’m just really excited to spend time with my friends.

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