Eastern Team Places Third at 2022 USTA League Nationals
Back at the top. An 18 & Over 2.5 Women’s League team representing USTA Eastern—dubbed the “Full Metal Racquets” and based out of the Chestnut Ridge Racquet Club in Mount Kisco, N.Y.—claimed third place out of 17 contenders at the USTA League National Championships, held September 30-October 2 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The achievement marked the second year in a row an Eastern squad netted that result in the division, after a team from New Rochelle scored the same outcome in 2021.
“It was incredible,” Captain Kirstin Cole said of the Racquets’ accomplishment. “There were so many twists and turns [over the course of the championship]. To get this third place finish, we were just elated!”
Cole isn’t wrong about the twists and turns. In round robin play, the Racquets kicked off their campaign with a respectable win over a competitive group from USTA Middle States. However, in the very next match, the team took a potentially championship-ending loss against USTA Missouri Valley, falling in all three of their courts (one singles and two doubles) in straight sets. The decisive defeat meant the Racquets would have to fight hard—and work to give up as few games and sets as possible going forward—if they wanted to finish as one of the top four teams and qualify for the semifinals of the competition.
“Both Middle States and Missouri Valley had solid records with a lot of wins and significant roster experience playing up a level, so we put a lot of effort into crafting our lineups,” Cole said. “And [after Missouri Valley swept], we knew it was gonna be a significant battle to overcome that devastating loss. But we kept ourselves together and vowed as a team to go out on the court with the best we had in us and fight like hell.”
And fight they did. Facing opponents from USTA Intermountain and USTA Southwest, the Eastern squad would go on to lose just one more court total en route to claiming a semifinal berth. The final match against the Southwest contingent proved particularly critical, as the Racquets needed to finish with a 3-1 win-loss record—and hope that other 2-1 teams would lose—to advance. Under immense pressure, they’d ultimately produce their best performance, winning all three of their courts by impressive margins. Rachel Massa lost the first set of her singles battle 1-6 before battling back to take the contest in a match tiebreak, while Cole and teammate Meredith Outwater claimed their doubles duel by a scoreline of 6-0, 6-0.
Cole noted that Massa—who came from the world of recreational flag football and only picked up tennis in February because she wanted to play with her husband—competed solely in doubles throughout the season and only began contesting singles courts at the behest of their coach during the USTA Eastern Sectional Championships in August.
“After a couple of grueling singles losses at sectionals, she was thrown into the final match,” Cole explained. “Our coach said, ‘You're a runner. You've got massive grit from football. Be a backboard and just wear your opponent down.’ Rachel is a believer. She took the W, and took that winning mindset to Nationals too!”
The team would ultimately again meet top-ranked Missouri Valley in the semis, where history would unfortunately repeat itself. The Racquets once more had to regroup as they prepared to take on USTA Mid-Atlantic for third place. Mid-Atlantic had gone a perfect 4-0 in the early stages of competition—finishing second only to the indomitable Missouri Valley squad—and had surrendered just two of their courts through all four matches. On the day, however, past results didn’t matter as Eastern easily came through their battle to claim victory and finish as the Top 3 2.5 squad in the nation.
“We put the team first, all the way,” Cole said in reflecting on the experience. “We had eight players in total in Oklahoma City for only five players per match. No one [complained] about lineups or partners. And we came to do our job. Not going for ego shots, but the shots that were high-percentage and drilled into us by our coach over 20 weeks of clinics.”
Cole also repeated the mantra ‘Winners keep winning’ as a way to motivate her team, which she said became their battle cry as they faced Mid-Atlantic.
“We love the fight,” she said. “We are scrappers and we never give up. That winning mindset will take you further than any slice or killer backhand.”
Of course, for Cole, the best part of the championship weekend was not necessarily the result, but the time she got to spend with the other women that composed the Racquets.
“My teammate Katie Sweeney brought her two boys with her,” Cole said. “One, Luke, is an incredible singer and the [Leagues staff] had worked with her to have him sing the National Anthem to kick off the championship. That unfortunately ended up getting scuttled, but another teammate is very involved in the music industry. She made some calls and got Luke the opportunity to sing onstage at the [concert venue and restaurant] Jones Assembly, where we were dining. Luke killed it, his mom was elated, and we hooted and hollered for him. It really was team first, all the way—on and off the court.”