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Surprise Entry in Championships

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM
New Jersey woman focused on a forehand

By Hillary Moore

When some USTA League teams form, they do so with the intention of reaching a national championship. Others form with the intention of learning a new skill and others form with the intention of fostering friendships. The ladies from Ringwood, N.J., representing USTA Eastern fall somewhere within the latter two but a trip to the national championships has been a welcome surprise.

Most of the New Jersey ladies have been playing together for over thirty years. They picked up racquets when new tennis courts were built in their neighborhood and their families decided to learn the sport together. They formed their own tennis group complete with weekend tennis tournaments and competition ladders which encouraged friendly competitions for the top spot. Since then, the ladies who began on their neighborhood courts have expanded to create their own team and in 2002, they officially formed a USTA League team.

The women started a USTA League team for the exercise, to be with friends and of course, for the fun of tennis. Reaching the national championships was never the purpose of coming together but the ladies from New Jersey are enjoying it nonetheless. After a shaky start in the first day of competition, they rebounded to defeat the USTA Intermountain team from Boise, Idaho. Team member Marta Mihelic explained, “I think we were all a little nervous yesterday. We’ve never been to the national championships before and we didn’t really know what to expect. But we learned from it and we told ourselves we needed to go out and do what we know how to do. Let’s do our thing, relax and have fun. And it has been so much fun.”

Fun and totally unexpected. Competing in Albany, N.Y., for the section championships, the Ringwood team actually left the tournament site in a three-way tie for the section title. As they were driving home, the tournament director called team captain Carole Denove and gave her the good news. “We left Albany as one of three teams who had a 3-1 record,” Denove said. “We weren’t sure how things were going to shake out and then I got the call. It was wonderful to be able to call the girls who were driving other cars and share the great news that we would be headed to Las Vegas to compete in the national championships.”

Unfortunately, the news from the last several months hasn’t been all great for the New Jersey women and the trip to nationals isn’t the only surprise they’ve been dealt. One week after winning the section championship, teammate Sue Prince was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unable to make the trip to Las Vegas, she is definitely in the minds of her teammates. Denove, who is not only Prince’s best friend but also a breast cancer survivor, is confident that she’ll soldier through treatment and be ready to get back on court next season. “Sue will be playing with us next year. She bought the team hat and the T-shirt; she’ll be out there hitting with us.”

Now that they have finished competition here at the Darling Tennis Center, the team is looking forward to the rest of their stay in Las Vegas. After winning their final match of the day and calling Prince to relay the results, the ladies planned to head back to the hotel, some for a nice relaxing swim in the pool and some to get ready for a trip to the Hoover Dam. Although they won’t be on the court, tennis will definitely be on their mind - that and what surprises may occur next year. No doubt they’ll make the most of whatever the future serves them.

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