Junior Team Tennis: 2021 Eastern Sectional Championships

Scott Sode | June 23, 2021

Caleb Brightman and Benjamin O'Connor-Skloot compete for the Hardscrabble Club team at the 2021 USTA Eastern Junior Team Tennis Sectional Championships. (Photo Credit: NY Tennis Mag/Sidnei Beal)

The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center recently came alive with a sound that has been all too absent from its grounds over the last year-and-a-half: cheers.


USTA Eastern held its Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectional Championships at the home of the US Open from June 19-20, with 24 teams and 185 players in attendance—the biggest Eastern JTT Sectional to date. Through two days of loud team spirit and camaraderie, as well as a host of closely-contested matches, four teams emerged victorious in various divisions to lift championship trophies in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium. 


In the 14 & Under (14U) Intermediate Division, the team from Centercourt, representing USTA Eastern’s New Jersey Region, defeated finalists World Gym, of the Long Island Region; the CourtSense team, also representing the New Jersey Region, captured the title in the 14U Advanced Division, overcoming the Metro Region team from National Tennis Center; the contingent from Hardscrabble Club, representing the Southern Region, claimed victory in the 18 & Under (18U) Intermediate Division, beating an 18U group from World Gym; and the Metro Region’s Pathway Tennis Foundation team took the top prize in the 18U Advanced Division, defeating a squad from Sportsplex, of the Southern Region.


Interestingly, Pathway Tennis Foundation lost to Sportsplex in Round Robin play before the final, so team members were happy to see improvement over the course of the event.


“It was probably our energy level,” said Pathway player Aaron Dozsa on what made the difference. “Especially when we were competing [in mixed doubles], we were just getting acclimated in the beginning. Once we figured out what we had to do, we just went after it.”


Dozsa’s teammate Lara Afolayanka also said team bonding—and the aforementioned cheering—played a role in their success. “[The team format of JTT] makes it easier to relax,” she said. “It’s not as stressful. Sure, you have a little pressure, but as long as you try your hardest, the team can help you out with your performance.”

National Tennis Center's Caitlin Bui competes at the 2021 USTA Eastern Junior Team Tennis Sectional Championships. (Photo Credit: NY Tennis Mag/Sidnei Beal)

It was Pathway’s first-ever JTT Sectional title, but only on account of the fact that the team's coach Richard Bowie—who has led other JTT teams over the years—just recently formed the foundation and USTA National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapter to help further support young players.


“I think the kids stepped up,” Bowie said of the victory. “They got along, and they were coachable in the big moments. All around they were just good competitors. And the team format is great for them. They’re playing for more than themselves, for one. They each play their roles. It’s all for the greater good.”


In JTT, one or two members of each team face off in five one-set matches: Boys’ and Girls’ singles and doubles matches, as well as a mixed doubles match. Although one team wins each match, every game earned is what ultimately counts toward the final score. The distinction ended up affecting the outcome of the 14U Advanced final, perhaps the most tightly-contested battle of the four championship matchups. The National Tennis Center team actually captured three of the five matches but ultimately lost out on the title due to games won. The difference in those games ultimately came down to CourtSense’s excellent performance in the Boys’ doubles match, which they claimed by a scoreline of 6-0.


“It feels very tiring,” CourtSense player Zoe Yao said with a laugh after the team’s hard-fought victory. “But now it’s paid off, because we got a very pretty plaque.”


Yao added that it was really team spirit that carried them over the line. “I really liked how our teammates always cheered us on really loudly even if we lost or won,” Yao said. “It made me feel good [on the court].”

CourtSense’s coach, Rohan Goetzke, has certainly seen his fair share of team tennis competition—as part of the Dutch Tennis Federation for nearly seven years, Goetzke coached the country’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup team. He felt that Sectionals helped his players to understand and deal with match pressure and tension, and also to channel their inner Rafael Nadal and never give up.


“Everything counts,” Goetzke said. “Sometimes when a player is getting blown out, they put the white flag up. [With JTT] you’ve got to get as many games as possible. That teaches you to hang in there. It’s [also] a good team-building thing. They’re all having fun, and they wanted to win.”


And of course, JTT helps players to strengthen parts of their game they may not get to work on in practice all the time.


“It’s great for them—they can improve their doubles technique,” said Centercourt’s parent-coach Vivian Yu of the JTT format.

Competing as a team was a highlight for many JTT Sectional participants. (Photo Credit: NY Tennis Mag/Sidnei Beal)

“They work on their volleys, they learn to be more aggressive. And then I think that mentally they have a little relief, because they have someone who has their back.”


Hardscrabble’s Caleb Brightman and Benjamin O’Connor-Skloot echoed that sentiment. As a doubles team they went undefeated throughout the course of the event.


“We did a lot of coaching [with each other] in between points,” said Brightman. “I was telling [Benjamin] where to stand so he’d know how to place the volley well. I think we taught each other the way to win.”


O’Connor-Skloot added that the pair had good on-court chemistry; he noted that over the summer last year they faced each other in singles matches “every day”, so they knew each other well. He also thought that enjoying themselves was critical to building their strong doubles record—and ultimately, to their team claiming victory in the 18U Intermediate division.


“Overall it’s just fun,” O’Connor-Skloot said of his JTT Sectional experience. “That’s the bottom line.”


USTA Eastern 2021 Junior Team Tennis Sectional Results:

14U Intermediate:


Champions: Centercourt Academy (New Jersey Region)

Finalists: World Gym (Long Island Region)


14U Advanced:


Champions: CourtSense (New Jersey Region)

Finalists: National Tennis Center (Metro Region)


18U Intermediate:


Champions: Hardscrabble Club (Southern Region)

Finalists: World Gym (Long Island Region)


18U Advanced:


Champions: Pathway Tennis Foundation (Metro Region)

Finalists: Sportsplex (Southern Region)

To learn more about Junior Team Tennis in the Eastern Section, click here.

Skip Advertisement


Related Articles

  • A student learns about college playing opportunities at USTA Eastern's College Showcase Day.
    College Showcase Day
    September 19, 2023
    USTA Eastern's annual College Showcase Day gives high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to meet college tennis coaches, collect information, listen to experts and learn about the NCAA process. Read More
  • Long Island-based teams swept all four divisions at the 2023 USTA Eastern Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectional Championships, held June 17-18 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Read More
  • Junior Team Tennis teams across the USTA Eastern Section faced off to earn a spot at JTT Sectionals, to be held in June at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Read More