All Nine of the Adult New England Champions Agree, Tennis is What Brings Them Together
By Carl Setterlund
SOUTH HADLEY – Sang Nguyen and his men’s 3.5 team from Woburn Racquet Club of Eastern Mass. were one of nine New England champions crowned at the 2012 Adult Section Championships, but he may have summed it up for all of the winners when he said his team “reacted like little kids, they were just so happy.”
Nguyen is only in his second year playing USTA tennis, but he had the idea of constructing a team of people he enjoyed playing against and wanted to become better friends with. The group became so tight-knit they were nearly inseparable as they won all three of their matches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Mass., to emerge victorious.
Eight other teams rose to the top and won their four-team, round-robin tournaments, with every flight or district champion playing three games apiece to determine who would advance on to the USTA League National Championships.
The 3.0 through 4.5 men and women’s champions will progress onward to play for a chance at a national title at the Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson, Ariz., throughout all four weekends of October. Meanwhile, Igor Korik’s women’s 2.5 squad from Willows Racquet Club in North Andover, Mass., will compete at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., from September 28-30.
The women’s 3.5 winners will join Nguyen’s Woburn team in Tucson on October 5-7. Captained by Rosanne Kroepel and Stacey Perkins, Simply Smashing, from Tennis Central Academy in Woodbridge, Conn., went 3-0 over the weekend.
They credited much of their success to their team coach and club owner Isidro Martinez, who they have playfully nicknamed “El Jefe,” Spanish for “The Boss.”
Simply Smashing won a winner-take-all match on Sunday, 3-2, over the South Shore YMCA of Hanover, Mass., captained by Sarah Crossman and Kara Moss.
“Isidro really got us to gel and work hard, and we’re beyond excited to have won the championship,” Perkins said. “We’re a diverse group of women from many different walks of life… and we were talking about how we wouldn’t have met each other if it were not for tennis. We’re good friends, we’ve practiced together for a long time and we’re excited to move ahead (to Nationals) together.”
Before heading to Tucson, Kroepel and Perkins will travel up north to The Essex Resort & Spa in Essex Junction, Vt., after a teammate won a raffle for a paid stay there at the “Player Party” held at the Marriott Springfield hotel on Saturday night.
The women’s 3.5 finals were one of five championships held at the 12-court facilities of Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., along with the women’s 2.5 and 4.5 and men’s 4.0 and 4.5 matches. The other four, the men’s 3.0 and 3.5 and women’s 3.0 and 4.0 finals, were hosted at Williston’s identical setup.
While Martinez admirably trekked up to South Hadley to watch his club’s 3.5 team, he wasn’t the only one to make a gesture of that nature. Gary Barros, general manager at Willows Racquet Club, drove the two hours west to support Korik’s 2.5 women as they won all three of their matches by close 2-1 scores.
Like Nguyen’s 3.5 team, the women’s 3.0 champs from Farmington Valley Racquet Club in Weatogue, Conn., were another first-year contingent. Most of the Servivors, captained by Cari Anne Goodwin, had planned to join Farmington’s existing 3.0 team, but after that group made it to Nationals last year and got bumped up to the 3.5 level, they were forced to create their own team.
The Servivors ended up repeated the club’s past success at sectionals and won both their first two matches, 4-1, only to find out that Gina D’Agostino’s Between the Lines from Rally Point Racquet Club in Greenville, R.I., had done the same.
Meredith Crowther proved to be the hero of the dramatic Sunday matchup between the Servivors and Between the Lines, winning the decisive match at second singles, 4-6, 6-3, 1-0, to boost the Servivors to a 3-2 victory.
The 3.0 men from the Todd Morsilli Clay Court Tennis Center at Roger Williams Park in Providence, R.I., endured an equally nerve-racking finish.
Last year, as the first men’s team ever from Roger Williams – according to team captain Leo Garceau – the men’s 3.0 squad made it to sectionals and went up, 2-0, only to lose, 5-0, on Sunday and choke away a trip to Nationals.
Roger Williams was in danger of feeling some déjà vu after again going ahead, 2-0, in the tournament before dropping to 0-4 on Sunday against the Waltham (Mass.) Athletic Club team led by Anees Ghosh and Sudershan Bhandari.
Luckily, Eric Weiner notched the one victory the team needed to advance, winning by a score of 2-6, 6-4, 1-0 in the final match at second singles.
The 3.0 teams will book their well-deserved trip to Tucson for the second weekend of October and will both compete at Nationals from Oct. 12-14. The 4.0 winners will follow a week later, playing from Oct. 19-21.
A little bit of emotion played into the victory for Doug Hastings and his men’s 4.0 champions from the Boston Sports Club of Lexington. They dedicated their season to former team member Mitch Gart, wearing wristbands with the letter “M” on them to honor their friend, who passed away from complications of ALS.
“It’s funny, you really get close to a group of guys over the course of a season,” said Hastings, who felt that Gart must have been watching from above after their opponent from Fore Court Racquet & Fitness in Cumberland, R.I., committed a double fault on match point to send BSC of Lexington to Nationals.
The team went undefeated in eight matches through districts and sectionals, but relied on 3-2 victories in six of those, including all three matches at Mt. Holyoke.
“This is one of the most exciting things most of us have ever experienced and it came down to just – you hear that cliché about team efforts, but everybody on this team won matches for us at all different positions,” Hastings said.
The women’s 4.0 champs playing out of Milford (Conn.) Indoor Tennis had long been chasing an elusive sectional championship. Lisa Bevilacqua’s Team Extreme is the result of two longtime rival squads that swallowed their pride and joined forces in 2009, a move that finally paid off four years into the experiment.
Team Extreme won its first two matches, but came across an opponent on Sunday from the Westboro (Mass.) Tennis & Swim Club that had accumulated an equal amount of individual wins, creating a winner-take-all de facto final.
Employing a strategy of “slow and steady wins the race,” the experienced captain Bevilacqua picked the right players and ended up with victories in first singles and second and third doubles to secure their first New England championship.
The women’s 4.5 winners from the Natick (Mass.) Racquet Club, captained by Erin Reeves – the club’s director of junior tennis – had a similar perspective.
“We’ve been working at this for a little while now,” Reeves said. “We came in second last year in sectionals and said, ‘Let’s try again’ and we made it happen.”
After losing its first match during last year’s sectionals, Natick couldn’t make up the ground it lost, so this year Reeves and the rest of the gang came in so focused that they went 3-0 and won a dominant 14 of their 15 individual matches.
Two Natick players, Sally Kellogg and Gail Warden, have helped the club to a banner year. Kellogg’s women’s 4.5 senior team won in nearly the same scenario at the Senior Section Championships the prior weekend, also at Mt. Holyoke.
One of the finest moments of the tournament came in the final individual match at Mt. Holyoke on Sunday afternoon, a men’s 4.5 second singles showdown.
Jon Parry’s Break Point team from The Woodlands Club of Falmouth, Maine had already won, 4-1, on both Friday and Saturday and clinched a trip to Nationals with Parker Swenson and Owen Patrick’s victory in second doubles.
With nothing left on the line, all the members of Break Point – as well as their opponents from Farmington Farms Tennis & Athletic Club in Connecticut – sat on the hillside and cheered with enthusiasm as Nick Bournakel rattled off seven straight points to win the third set tiebreak, 11-9, and complete his comeback to beat Farmington’s Alex Dahlem, 3-6, 7-5, 1-0, in his first match of the weekend.
“This is a group that never loses their head,” said Parry, an 11-year captain who went to Nationals with four of the same teammates as a men’s 4.0 team in 2010.
Break Point and Natick will close out the Men and Women’s Adult Nationals from Oct. 26-28, with the Mixed Nationals following shortly after during November.