Brenda Lash, Brenda Williams, Sally Harn and the rest of the Pacific Northwest 4.0 Adult Women's Team
© Jen Pottheiser
By Jeff Sikes, USTA.com
Several of the women’s teams that made their way to Las Vegas’ Darling Tennis Center this weekend for the 4.0 USTA League National Championships have had to show persistence and determination throughout their year of league play. Some teams had to shrug off a tough loss in a regular season, or, claw back from the throes of near-defeat at their Section Championships. Some faced the loss of a good player due to injury…but still they each made it here as the cream of the nation’s 4.0 crop.
Then there is the team from Bally’s Racquet Club in Olympia, Wash. The girls from the capital city have an epic story of heartbreak and near-misses that would puts them all to shame.
Three members from a team formed 16 years ago at Bally’s Racquet Club – captain Sally Harn, Brenda Williams and Brenda Lash – started a long journey that began in 1994 and was finally realized this week just by being here in Vegas as the Pacific Northwest Section Champion at the USTA League National Championships.
Those three ladies have been the consummate bridesmaids of recreational league tennis for an astonishing 16 straight years. There is, however, one little caveat to that factoid. They MADE the Section Championships all those years, but never once did they manage to punch their ticket any further. Until this year.
“It’s funny because when we started this back in 1994, we were just shocked to even make it to the Section Championships in Portland,” said Lash, who is the only one of the original three to actually be on the team all 16 of those years (Harn and Williams each missed a year). “That was our first team and first year, and we made it all the way to the Section finals, but came up a bit short.”
That would be a common refrain in the intervening years, as the three “Bally’s Girls” would get used to eyeing the prize and the automatic berth to nationals, but were never quite close enough to crack the code. For 16 years straight they advanced out of local league play to the PNW Section Championships, and four of those years the team finished as runners-up at the event (1994, 96, 2003, 2006), even coming as close as a mere two points from victory and a Nationals spot in 2003.
“We went through a lot of team mantras, from the first year as Team Destiny, to ‘Win in Ten’, to ‘Lucky Thirteen’,” said Harn. “None of them quite panned out.”
The fun jokes at first turned to frustration as the quest continued, but never did the three girls waver.
“We’ve had some long, quiet drives back from home the Section Championships in Portland after a few of those times,” said Lash, who actually broke her left wrist this year and barely managed to qualify for Portland with the pre-required number of matches while recovering.
But the spell finally lapsed this year in Portland, the site of so many tough memories. It do so when their young gun singles player Sarah Hartley clinched the team’s decisive third match victory on the last court on against a team from Hood River, Ore. Hartley was all of nine years old and taking lessons in the junior program at Bally’s when her now teammates started their first run at a national trip.
“We had a lot of disappointment, so much disappointment, and so much of being oh so close, said Williams. “But we’d never been the team to sit back and boo-hoo or cry about it.”
Tears did flow however this year when the team finally did punch their national ticket, though they weren’t by the girls (they popped champagne instead on court). Longtime PNW League Section Coordinator Sheila Banks had to push back tears when she handed the girls their Section Championships trophies. Banks had been witness to the team’s constant consternation and dubbed them the “Susan Lucci’s of Tennis” comparing them to the soap actress’ finally-recognized 19-year attempt at winning a Daytime Emmy Award.
The team will have to split up (only three players can remain from a nationals qualifying team for a team formed the following league year) according to USTA rules. Harn says that most of the team wants to give it a go at 4.5 (if they get moved up), but the team will probably take a wait-and-see approach, waiting until final year-end ratings before making their final decision.
“We’re just so happy to be here FINALLY,” said Harn. “I told my husband the other night, that besides getting married and having three girls, this is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me.”