By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
Warming up on this windy, crisp morning in Cayce, S.C., a pair of South Carolina Gamecocks, Lauren Armstrong and Zach Errickson, were sharing a court with the members of the USTA Caribbean 18 & Under Intermediate team. Armstrong and Errickson were volunteering their weekend to help spread the word among the Jr. Team Tennis players about the USTA Tennis On Campus (TOC) program, a nationwide network of college club teams. Both eagerly embraced the opportunity to hit with the younger players, in spite of the early hour and the temperature hovering around freezing.
After hitting with the Jr. Team Tennis participants, the collegians came away impressed.
“I could definitely see some of these players on our team,” said Errickson, a junior at USC. “They’d be great additions.”
“They play at the level we play – it was fun,” added Armstrong, a senior and the team’s president.
The mission of TOC is to provide college students with a host of opportunities for competition and team camaraderie through tennis—without the demands of a varsity program. The co-ed format is designed to accommodate all levels of play and, just as with Jr. Team Tennis, the top teams each year can compete for regional and national championships.
Nine Gamecocks made the six-mile trip south from campus to the Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center on both Friday and Saturday for this year’s Jr. Team Tennis National Championships. The team members shook hands with the participants, gave out fliers and answered any and all questions presented to them by curious players and parents. A pair of USC team members, juniors Natalie Swift and Brian Lim, had learned the sport years ago while playing for Jr. Team Tennis squads in the USTA’s Southern section. Bother remember the experience fondly.
“It was my favorite part of high school, joining up with friends and even recruiting from a couple of other schools around Spartanburg [S.C.],” said Swift of Jr. Team Tennis. “It was a way to meet and befriend people I may otherwise have never met.”
“I grew up playing team tennis, started at the age of 10,” added Lim. “We had a pretty good team that went to states almost every year. I remember traveling to places like Chattanooga [Tenn.] and Mobile [Ala.] to play Sectionals, having a blast with my teammates just like I do now.” The University of South Carolina is just one of 625 club teams in the U.S. currently under the TOC umbrella, a number that’s grown steadily each year since the program’s inception in 2000.
“Jr. Team Tennis creates a smooth transition to Tennis On Campus because our core concept is the same: socially competitive team play,” said Glenn Arrington, USTA Tennis On Campus National Manager. “When you play JTT or TOC, you’re part of a connected social tennis community. You play together, travel together, hang out with your friends and support one another during matches. Ours has been a great relationship through the years, keeping kids connected, active and healthy in the game they love when it’s time to go to college.
“We’ve worked hard for over 10 years to build the opportunities for high school and junior tennis players – we look forward to seeing them enjoy a meaningful college tennis experience in the future.”