USTA Southern men's captain Duane Pierce
© Juan Ocampo
By Jessica Hall, special to USTA.com
After being together for four years, the USTA Southern 18 & Over Men’s 4.0 team from Baton Rouge, La., comes to the USTA League National Championships for the first time.
The team is comprised of players with varying ages ranging from 20 to 66 years old. Six of the 12 members of the Southern team are either current college students or recent graduates from schools that include Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Louisiana State University at Eunice.
Captain Duane Pierce, 51, believes that the age difference of his players is what makes his team so successful and a strong contender for the national title, despite the fact that the team is down five starters. (Three players are out because of injuries, one is away on his honeymoon and another stayed home because of family commitments.)
“Our younger guys all played club tennis, so they bring new ideas to the group,” Pierce said. “The older guys bring league ideas, so we’re open-minded to different strategies. In a match where we need to be aggressive, the younger guys help bring out that tenacity.”
Although the team has been together for four years and dominated its league, this is the first year the men have been to Nationals after a difficult finish to 2012.
“Last year, we were the top seed for every competition and won both state and sectionals,” Pierce said. “In regionals, we choked and just couldn’t qualify for nationals. Our team could have brought home the title, but things just didn’t go our way. This year we’re ready to honor our hard work to get here.”
After gliding their way through combos and sectionals in 2012 and not making it to Nationals, the Southern men aren’t taking anything for granted this year.
“Things were so easy for us last year,” Pierce said. “We didn’t realize what a ridiculous opportunity we wasted. It shows you how precious it is to be here, and we’re fortunate to play people from all over.”
Pierce wants the members of his team to embrace the fact they made it this far and prove that they are serious contenders for the national title.
“The thing about tennis is that it’s more than a way to compete,” Pierce said. “I like to focus on something and do it well. The reality is that we don’t play tennis for our careers; we’re here to enjoy it and appreciate the fact we made it here. We’ve been the underdogs at every competition, but we’re ready to compete here.”
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