Middle States

What a Run

Philly-area team takes home USTA National Title

League Champions

A Well-Earned Title for Maresca and Team

We had players who were totally selfless all year.

A Well-Earned Title for Maresca and Team

Photo from Left-Right: Ann Tracey, Stephanie Mockus, Dawn Keaton, Anne Sherow, Janet van Mol, Katherine Hagestad,Co-Captain Karen Holland, Carol Czumbil, Gloria Nelson, Captain Gena Maresca, Karen Hillis, Sherri Hammer, Janet Bellaran and Rachel McGowan


Gena Maresca had captained USTA League teams for nine years, but had never advanced past districts, let alone nationals. Heading into 2019, she and her 3.5 18 and over team hoped to change that.


Mission accomplished — and then some. 


During the spring and summer of 2019, Maresca’s Levittown-based team blew through the regular USTA League tennis season, advanced through district and section championships and earned a berth at USTA National Championships in Surprise, Ariz. There, the team took first place, earning the national title.


For Maresca and several of her teammates, it was a payoff after years and years of competitive play.


“We were on cloud nine,” Maresca said. “Most of us still are.”


It takes plenty of talent to win nationals. But in a competition against so many great players, something has to separate a team. For this team, it came down to a mix of attitude and effort.


Maresca, who has captained in multiple age categories and levels, couldn’t stop raving about the women on the team. Being the first time at nationals for so many players, Maresca said that the team took a “thrilled to be there” and “let’s give it everything we have” attitude, which freed them up to play relaxed and confidently. 


“We took a drill on Thursday when we arrived in Arizona,” she said. “One of the pros told us, ‘It’s OK to be nervous, but don’t play scared just because you’re at nationals. If you do that, you might miss your chance.’ That resonated with me so much.”


It also resonated with the rest of the players on the team. They didn’t worry too much about the result, and instead, just focused on giving it their all and enjoying the moment. Maresca and the team kept things loose.


“Everyone had played, and we were still in the top four,” Maresca said. “At that point we said, ‘Wow, top four. Well, that’s good enough, let’s just see what happens. As only 3 of our 14 players had ever even been to nationals, we were just thrilled to be there.”


A guaranteed top-four finish freed them up again to play relaxed on the final day of the tournament.


Then, suddenly, they were national champs.


“Our experience at nationals was surreal,” Maresca said.


When asked about her team, Maresca talks about everyone except herself. Thinking back on the championship weekend, she gave a special shoutout to teammate Stephanie Mockus.


“We had players who were totally selfless all year,” Maresca said. “Stephanie is an example of that. She was not traditionally a singles player, and she played singles maybe three or four times all season. But she knew we could really use her in singles, and she took one for the team and offered to play that spot.”


Mockus ended up going 6-0 in her singles matches that weekend, winning four of those matches in tiebreaks. It ended up making the difference. The team was behind every match, cheering the whole way.


“Throughout the four days we spent in Surprise, we kept our “Purple Power” theme going strong,” Maresca said. “From Mardi Gras beads, to headbands, and even a purple morph suit — the evidence of our Middle States team spirit was everywhere.”


As well as the team played at nationals, they may remember the journey to nationals just as much — if not more. Many of the players had competed together for years, building their relationships and team camaraderie. The national event also wrapped up a season that presented plenty of tough moments — something that made the team tougher in the end.


“We faced some adversity at the districts level,” Maresca said. “We suffered a tough loss in the very first match with a marathon tiebreaker that didn’t go our way, setting us back at the start. We thought our season was over, but got a last-minute reprieve when the team in first place lost their very last match, putting us back in the running for the finals on Sunday, which we won, 4-1.”


“I started a 4.0 team that also played on Saturday mornings with the help of my friend, Chari McClary, who was the captain,” Maresca added. “This gave many of my 3.5 players the opportunity to play at a higher level and A lot of tennis. Balancing these two teams was tricky, and I really found that it was helpful to ask players who they wanted to play with. Who sometimes I assumed they’d want to play with, that wasn’t the case.”


Maresca also leaned on the players and the experiences they had.


“I have had some great, experienced captains on the roster,” she said. “Captaining isn’t easy, but it’s a ton of fun. These women are great to play with and it’s really rewarding. This has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had.”


“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” Maresca added. “And not just because we walked away with a title — though that helped. Traveling together, living together, and winning together has formed forever friendships and brought our team closer together.”


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