ORGANIZER OF THE MONTH: NOVEMBER 2017
USTA Eastern | November 27, 2017
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has impacted lives through tennis on a local level. For the first time ever, we are recognizing an amazing duo; they will attest that what they accomplished together could not be done single-handedly. It began with a love for the game, but ended in an extraordinary pro/parent partnership that took this 14U Intermediate Junior Team Tennis team all the way to the National Championship.
Tennis Organizers of the Month: November 2017
After competing at the USTA Adult League 5.0 Women’s National Championship years ago, Lisa Pento, a USPTA elite professional teaching at Elevate Fitness (formerly Gold’s Gym) in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York, felt inspired. She always wondered how far a Junior Team Tennis (JTT) team comprised of the best junior players from the area could go. ADVERTISEMENT “I had so much fun with my teammates at Nationals. I wanted share this amazing experience with the kids I teach,” said Pento.
Pento has taught in the Western New York area for more than 30 years, and none of the clubs she worked at organized Junior Team Tennis teams. If Pento was going to put a team together for the first time, she wanted to put together the best team she could. That’s when Pento approached Lisa Tutor, a good friend and the mother of some of her most motivated students, for some help. Together, Pento and Tutor set out to put together a championship JTT team, pooling junior students from Elevate Fitness’s Liverpool and Dewitt locations. Through skilled coaching, dedication to practice and encouragement, the Liverpool Lightning Bolts won the Western Region JTT championship and were off to JTT Sectionals in Schenectady.
“The kids practiced together for months and really gelled as a team,” said Tutor. “I think one of the most valuable learnings the team enjoyed and that helped our kids keep perspective was that every single game they won was an achievement, contributed to our team’s standings and got us to our end goal.”
This is a credit to the JTT format, which is very different from USTA Junior Tournaments. Regardless if junior players win or lose their court, the JTT team still receives points for every game its players win during a match. The team that wins the most games cumulatively is the victor. “That's why we emphasized to the kids throughout the season that every game, no matter whether it was just the matches that we had here at home or the matches at Regionals, every game counts. It didn’t matter as much if our singles player lost her the match, if she still won five games in that match; those games counted toward the team’s total,” said Pento.
Despite all of “the Lisa’s” preparation, the Lightning Bolts were still surprised that they won the Western Regional JTT Championship. But nothing compared to their shock at winning the State Sectionals. The constant reminders from Pento and Tutor resonated. When it came right down to it, the Lightning Bolts clinched their spot at the JTT National Championship by winning with a one-game margin.
“I knew that they were a very good team, but not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that we would win Sectionals and get to go to Nationals,” said Pento. “And I couldn’t have done it without Lisa [Tutor’s] help. The arrangement worked out very well.”
Word spread fast throughout Syracuse about the Lightning Bolts’ time at Nationals and what these players accomplished. Elevate Fitness went from fielding one 14U JTT team, to at least three teams this season, including a 12U, 14U and 18U team.
Though the Lightning Bolts did not win their flight at the National Championship, the experience of playing at the new USTA National Campus was thrilling and one that every player cherished. “Just getting to play at the National Campus, where the top American players train, was an exciting opportunity for our kids. They felt like professional athletes,” said Tutor.
For more information on starting a Junior Team Tennis team, please click here.