Mary Williams (left) and Val Woodley have brought their tennis skills from England to the U.S., where competition reigns at all levels with USTA League.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. – Winning at the USTA League Super Seniors National Championships requires will, skill and old-school teamwork in the most literal sense.
Enter Val Woodley and Mary Williams, both teachers trained out of the Bedford College of Physical Education (now the University of Bedfordshire), a pair of great Britons who have led USTA Middle States cross-country for a shot at a national title.
"It means a lot to be here," said Woodley, 70. "I’ve known most of the women here on this team for a long time, some for 15 or 20 years or so, and their families, too. We’re all very supportive of one another."
The Leicester native was a competitive junior player in her youth before pursuing a degree. Woodley taught for only one semester at home before crossing the pond to at the age of 22, continuing her teaching career in the U.S. and establishing bonds with fellow tennis players outside of work and home life in the Delaware County area of Pennsylvania.
"Everything is on a bigger scale here, even for amateurs," said Woodley. "Comparing it to England, the weather’s an issue because it’s so lousy – you can’t play half the time."
Inclement conditions were nowhere to be found at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Ariz., at the start of the Super Senior Nationals, with sunny skies and temperatures entering the 90s in the afternoon. The Middle States women lost a tough third-set tie-break against Mid-Atlantic to start Super Seniors, but they remain in the running for the tournament’s top prize.
The 61-year-old Williams first swung a racquet five decades ago as a child and has now qualified for five USTA League Nationals with Middle States. Even with success, it never gets old for the Liverpool native because of the unique advantages for recreational players that USTA League provides.
"Well, I think you’ve got to be grateful that you’re still playing tennis competitively now," said Williams. "The bonding of the team, the camaraderie is special, but it’s the competition even at this age that I love."
Williams landed in the U.S. after 15 years of teaching gym to elementary, middle and high school students in England, and she now is a professor of physical education at the West Chester University of Pennsylvania in suburban Philadelphia.
"Tennis is taken a lot more seriously over here in the United States," said Williams. "When I was young and played in England, I didn’t have that much competition – I stopped playing for about 20 years before moving to the States and became involved with the USTA. It’s been a wonderful time."
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