Photo Credit: Juan Ocampo
An untimely accident robbed Captain Omar Alcaino the opportunity to lead his USTA Southern 2.5 mixed doubles team into Tucson. Regardless, the newly formed squad vows to show off the teamwork and good form ingrained in their games by their fallen leader.
By Jessica Hall, special to USTA.com
For the USTA League Southern Section 18 & Over Mixed 2.5 wild-card team out of Pelham, Ala., it’s been a bittersweet journey from Dixieland to the desert of Tucson, Ariz. Excited to show that they can match up with the best the country has to offer, they will do so without team captain and leader, Omar Alcaino, cheering them on from the sidelines.
Two weeks before his team was to participate in their first National Championship as a unit, Alcaino was standing on his backyard balcony when he fell through the floor, some 20 feet to the ground below. He was hospitalized for a week with a broken rib and a punctured lung.
The 53-year-old transplant from Santiago, Chile, has helped multiple teams
from the Pelham Racquet Club reach the top of the USTA League ladder, the most recent success coming with the Adult 18 & Over 2.5 men’s team taking second place in Indian Wells, Calif., back in October. Alcaino couldn’t make this trip, however; the injuries severe enough that traveling was discouraged by doctors.
The team of nine – five men, four women – reflected on the irony of it all; without him, the six-month-old team never makes it Nationals. Yet they can’t share the shining moment with him.
“He has provided us with guidance and moral support in the past six months that our team has been together,” said team member Keith Harrah.
“He’s the leader of our team, the glue,” added Lynn Watkins, another member of the squad.
Thirty-eight-year-old Nuruddin Virani vows to provide leadership as the interim captain in Alcaino’s absence.
“It’s such an honor to be the captain of this team,” said Virani. “It’s an amazing experience and I never thought I was going to be here. I feel so fortunate.”
Watkins is one of the four ladies on the nine-member team. The 38-year-old started playing USTA League tennis just six months ago and is entering her first Nationals.
“Everybody keeps telling us that this is a chance of a lifetime,” said Watkins. “It’s a whirlwind to make it this far, not very many people get this opportunity. It took a lot of strength on everybody’s part to come out here and be without our leader – we all took on a different role and had to wear a different hat.”
“It could have torn us apart but it made us better friends,” added Virani. “We’ve all worked so hard to do our part to make this team come together.”