Photo Credit: Michael Le Brecht II
Not long ago, the hopes of the USTA Eastern 18 & Under Intermediate team and a Jr. Team Tennis National Championships berth hung on young Kevin Valdez’s pinkie finger.
By Sarah Houseknecht, special to USTA.com
The Highland Park Hawks playing out of Brooklyn, N.Y., are proudly representing USTA Eastern at the Jr. Team Tennis 18 & Under National Championships, a first for their club. Yet their road to Cayce, S.C., wasn’t entirely smooth. In fact, four months ago the band of seven nearly had to face steep deficit at Sectionals before having played a single match.
At that crucial point, a season of hope and promise hinged on the health of a pinkie finger.
Kevin Valdez, one of the team’s players, broke the digit on his right hand in June while practicing a week prior to Sectionals in Schenectady, N.Y. The 18-year-old was unsure if he would be able to grip his racquet properly and compete – a stressful moment for a team that had worked hard all season long.
“We don’t have extra players, so Kevin missing Sectionals would have hurt us significantly,” said coach Hector Henry. “If he was unable to go, we would have no choice to default the games he would’ve normally played.
“So we decided he was going to go, even if he had to play with one hand.”
Just two hours before the team departed for upstate New York, Valdez was cleared to play. He quickly packed his bags, headed to Schenectady and helped his team to a sectional title. The Hawks advanced over five other teams vying for the Eastern 18U Intermediate crown. With a total of 133 games won, the group earned the right to represent its section at the Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center.
“We would have been out of luck,” said Valdez. “We would have dropped 30 points automatically and our team would have lost at Sectionals and we wouldn’t have made it here.”
Valdez, from Jamaica, N.Y., in the borough of Queens, said his first experience at Jr. Team Tennis National Championships has been well worth the trip.
“I love Nationals so far,” said Valdez. “The most fun part is meeting people from all over the country – playing with them, hitting with them and competing with them."