Photo Credit: Jennifer Pottheiser
The Austin Tennis Academy in Texas is the defending USTA Jr. Team Tennis national champion. Yet for the ATA, winning is only part of the equation. The kids are eager to learn the game and the coaching staff stresses the importance of education both on and off the court.
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
Playing Jr. Team Tennis for the Austin Tennis Academy (ATA) requires a commitment to reaching one’s full potential; not only perfecting serves and ground strokes, but also being a model citizen for Texas’ capital region of Austin.
For the kids and coaches at the ATA, the significance of hard work and being a good friend and teammate trumps all.
In recent years, it’s also led to some impressive results on the court. The USTA Texas team enters the 2013 USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships in Cayce, S.C., as defending champions in the 14 & Under Advanced division.
“Some of these kids have never hit a ball anywhere else besides the ATA,” said coach Alvin Owusu, after the team’s opening round robin win over USTA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s a family atmosphere that we promote, and all the young players that come through our doors get involved with Jr. Team Tennis. We’re always a team, and it’s great to be part of an event like this where the team result is bigger than the individual. It’s a focus. Because every game counts [in Jr. Team Tennis Nationals scoring], it’s easy to teach a tennis lesson in that nothing is ever over.”
The organization, celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month, has made quite an impression at the national level when it comes to Jr. Team Tennis. The ATA also claimed the 18 & Under Advanced title in South Carolina last year, making it three championships in four years for the older group, which is made up of several graduates from the 14 & Under group in competitions past.
“They’ve become the standard,” said Adrienne Di Menna, USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Manager. “With more than 13,000 teams competing in Jr. Team Tennis across the country, the ATA is always at or right near No. 1. Not only are the kids extremely talented, they also are very respectful and display good sportsmanship when we see them at Nationals. From the coaches and parents on down, it’s a pleasure to have them.”
Many of the ATA’s graduating teens go on to continue in tennis in their collegiate years as players – whether at the varsity or club level – and still others begin a path of youth coaching and volunteer work. The ATA offers a variety of college prep options for their kids: personal counseling, SAT & PSAT prep and registration, application writing and more.
“Every one of the kids we have here are getting to that high school age and are working hard to be at their academic best,” said Carol Hagar, who serves as the ATA’s head of college prep. “We’re not grade-centric, but a cool thing about this group is that they’re all ‘A’ students.”
Fourteen-year-old Alexandria Mjos is one of four holdovers from the championship squad that defeated USTA New England in the 2012 14U Advanced final. Playing the game since the age of 8, Mjos was also involved in organized Tae Kwon Do, basketball, softball and golf before deciding on her own to focus on tennis exclusively.
“It’s the sport I found to be the most exciting,” said Mjos. “You usually think tennis is one-on-one, but here it’s about a team that is playing all year round. We get to travel, fly on a plane, enjoying everything together.”
And that, said Owusu, will remain regardless of whether the ATA repeats in 2013 or not.
“What I tell them is that with the wins or losses, the missed shots, the made shots, that’s not what will be remembered,” Owusu said. “The truly important thing about our experience will be the people you meet and the friendships – and also the impression you make upon others.”