Soccer star Kissel leaps to hardwood

Rhiannon Kissel played three seasons with the Ontario Tech women's soccer team. Photo credit: Shaun McLeod

For the past three years, Rhiannon Kissel has been a fixture of the Ontario Tech women’s soccer team. Now she’s leaping to the hardwood in her final athletic venture on campus as a member of Ontario Tech’s first women’s basketball team.

“I used to play recreational basketball…and I played with my high school team,” said Kissel, who is from Peterborough. “But when I came here to university to play soccer, I really missed playing basketball.”

She jumped at the chance to get on the coaching staff’s radar early and contacted head coach Christa Eniojukan in the springtime to declare her interest in trying out for the team.

“I hadn’t played basketball at as high of a level as I had soccer, so I wasn’t sure how it would go,” said Kissel.

Kissel has racked-up numerous soccer accolades in her trophy case, including being named the Ontario Tech freshman athlete of the year and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) rookie of the year in 2016. Kissel was a member of Ontario Tech’s first OUA championship, helped the Ridgebacks earn a USports bronze medal, and prior to coming to school she had a provincial and national gold medal and a second-place finish in the 2015 Norway Cup with the Darlington Fusion.

“I wanted to have a big impact. I wanted to help the school be successful and make history,” said Kissel of her soccer career. “My teammates and parents were big motivators, too; my parents came to every game.”

The adjustment from the field to the court has been a work in progress for Kissel, who was a star player for Ontario Tech’s women’s soccer team but now finds herself banging in the paint for rebounds and doing the dirty work for the basketball team.

Rhiannon Kissel looks for a teammate during the game against the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Nov. 8. Photo credit: Shaun McLeod

“I had to change my mentality a little bit, even when I played basketball, I was never a forward or a post player.

“It’s really competitive compared to what I used to play, I’m trying to learn a new position and play at this level at the same time…It’s been tough but I’m really enjoying being on the team will play wherever I get put,” said Kissel with a smile.

The Ridgebacks have been held winless over their first 14 games but have had two close calls over the past month in a 55-54 loss to the Toronto Varsity Blues and a 75-70 overtime loss to the Algoma Thunderbirds.

“It’s been exciting, we definitely want to get that win,” said Kissel, “but it’s disappointing when we come that close and don’t, but we know that we’ll get one soon and that will feel great.”

That enthusiasm and optimism speak to the closeness of the women’s team which has invested time into team bonding throughout the season which was highlighted by a team Christmas party that included a gingerbread house building competition – which Kissel’s team won – and a trip to the training facility of the reigning NBA champions, Toronto Raptors.

“It’s been great, all the girls are really nice; I think we get along really well,” said Kissel, “and we’ve done a lot of team bonding which only brings us closer.”

The Ridgebacks will have a few more chances at a win before the end of the season with games against the 2-11 Laurentian Voyagers and the 3-11 Waterloo Warriors coming up in Oshawa in early February and of course, an upset is always a possibility.

Even with the tough start, Kissel hopes that the lessons learned from her time in soccer will carry over to hardcourt victories soon.

“Keep working hard, and don’t give up,” said Kissel, “If you’re an underdog, don’t let that hold you back. Teams underestimating you is a good thing; you get to go out there and show them what you’re made of.”

Kissel will be finishing up her time in Ontario Tech athletics soon and hopes to pursue a career in marketing. She says she’ll remember the close-knit community of the university and the relationships she’s formed with the athletic department and other athletes the most.