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Handshakes and heads held high, Eastern takes pride in sportsmanship

October 25, 2013 05:38 PM
Photo Credit: Michael Le Brecht II
The USTA Eastern 18 & Under Advanced team finally broke through after four attempts at Sectionals to earn a trip to the Jr. Team Tennis National Championships in 2013, but for years the squad has been a winner in the ways of sportsmanship.
By Sarah Houseknecht, special to USTA.com
Sportsmanship has always been considered a pillar of USTA Jr. Team Tennis, especially at the annual National Championships. Players are expected to call their own lines, cheer on their teammates and be courteous to opponents – all while competing for the season’s ultimate title. 
“No one will remember the shot you hit long to the fence, or the overhead that you whiff, or the volley that you shank, but what we will remember how you react in that moment,” USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Chair Carla O'Connor said during the Opening Ceremonies of the Jr. Team Tennis 18 & Under National Championships at Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center in Cayce, S.C.
One team in particular didn’t need reminding. The USTA Eastern Advanced team has had one of its players selected for the section’s sportsmanship award every season for the past three years. 
“There’s been a lot of talk about being a good sport. I don’t have to remind these kids because they’re always great sports,” said coach Patricia Dicaprio. “They are really good kids, and it comes from the parents too. Our parents have been great role models, they never exhibit bad behavior and they’re always friendly to the opponents.
“The most important thing in life is being a fair, good and respectful person, and treating others the same way. They compete hard, but sportsmanship is important to them.”
Most of the Easterners have been playing together since they were 11 years old. They have made it to Sectionals the last four seasons, advancing to Jr. Team Tennis National Championships for the first time in 2013 – the last year the team will compete as a group. Two of the three past sectional sportsmanship winners are still playing for the team. Mia Dicaprio of Schenectady, N.Y., was honored in 2011 and teammate Anthony O’Connell of Troy, N.Y., earned the award this past season.
“Even if you’re not the best player, you always want to be a good sport because that’s who you are. You’re representing not only yourself, but also your team and the sport of tennis,” said Mia Dicaprio. 
O’Connell noted that the level of sportsmanship displayed by all 250 competitors at Jr. Team Tennis Nationals is high, particularly with the USTA Hawaii Advanced team he and his Eastern teammates matched up against in their first contest at Nationals. He prides himself on his accomplishment at Sectionals and plans to continue to spread his positive energy in South Carolina. 
“It’s pretty cool to receive the sportsmanship award because a lot of other kids don’t have great attitudes on the court. It’s fun to get recognized for not taking it to seriously and having fun,” said O’Connell. “It shows not only how you are as a tennis play, but how you are as a person. It’s definitely important.”
In team tennis, Mia Dicaprio admits sportsmanship is more important than ever. In fact, having a built in support system has helped the Eastern team reach their ultimate goal of playing at Nationals. 
“Part of sportsmanship is having your team to pick you up when you’re down or congratulate you when you’re up,” she said. “I enjoy team tennis more than individual tennis because I have my team behind me. Tennis is a very individual sport and JTT makes it more of a team effort. At Nationals, everyone is really committed to the sport and everyone is really excited to be here. It’s a good vibe.”
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USTA Jr. Team Tennis brings kids together in teams to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles against other teams. It promotes social skills and important values by fostering a spirit of cooperation and unity, as well as individual self-growth. Also, it’s a fun environment for kids in which they learn that succeeding is really more about how they play the game – win or lose.


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