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USTA League National Championships

Better with age: Missouri Valley veteran squad meeting Nationals challenge

September 29, 2012 04:11 PM
Jackie Gehrke leads a Missouri Valley contingent on the courts in the unforgiving heat against competition often their junior.
The USTA Missouri Valley 5.0 women's team, standing proudly in Indian Wells.
By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com

Many of the teams participating in this weekend’s USTA League 5.0 Adult National Championships feature line-ups with younger players in their 20s and 30s.

But one team is entirely comprised of veteran tennis players in their 40s and 50s.

The USTA Missouri Valley Section women’s 5.0 team, based in Merriam, Kansas is led by 50-year-old captain Jackie Gehrke. The team members are 51-year-old Di Kakareka, 52-year-old Nancy Hougland, 51-year-old Lorie Verdi, 48-year-old Tracy Cooper and 45-year-old Valerie Marks.

"Some of us have been friends for a very long time and we’ve just stuck together," Gehrke said. "Some of the younger players have gravitated to another team, so we just ended up with older players. Since we’re such good friends, we don’t want to kick anyone off to add a younger player."

After finishing in a first-place tie in 5.0 league play with a 7-2 record this past summer, Gehrke’s team, which played league matches at the Kansas City Racquet Club, advanced to the USTA League National Championships, winning the tiebreaker based on fewest sets lost.

"We have a very strong league with a lot of good players," Gehrke said. "Locally it’s pretty tough."

When asked how her veteran squad has been able to compete with younger teams, Gehrke said that experience and physical fitness were the most important factors.

"My number one team, Valarie and Lorie, have played together for years and they’re still one of the top teams in the city," Gehrke said. "I have several singles players who may not do well against young ringers, but they’re just crafty."

Besides playing tennis, many of the team members play other sports such as swimming or running to keep in shape, according to Gehrke, who competed in her first triathlon earlier this year.

"Everybody does something else to stay in shape and we’ve kind of branched out to other things," said Gehrke, who is playing in her third USTA League National Championship in the last five years.

The USTA Missouri Valley Section women’s 5.0 team played in Flight #3 in this weekend’s National Championships. Despite finishing with an 0-3 record, Gehrke enjoyed the experience and felt good about her team because each match they played was competitive. Two of their matches were decided in a third set match tiebreak.

"We think it’s the most beautiful place to play tennis in the whole country. We just love it. It’s fun, it’s a vacation," Gehrke said. "It’s not just a tournament. We just had a wonderful time."

Before heading back home, the Missouri Valley Section women’s 5.0 team was planning to hike in one of the local mountains.


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