New Tennis Journeys
For the last several years, the State College (Pa.) area hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for USTA League Tennis.
“For whatever reasons, we haven’t seen a lot of adult league play there in the past,” said Cathy Shaak, USTA Middle States Tennis Service Representative. “It’s a great tennis area, but our league program hasn’t been as popular.”
That seems to be changing.
This past summer, the PSU Adult League began. In Penn State-themed colors of blue and white, Susan Allerheilgen captained the blue team, while Peggy Duffie captained the white team. Both have captained USTA League teams in other states and have unique, extensive backgrounds in tennis.
It’s the first league team in the area in over 20 years, and it is expected to grow more in the spring.
“It’s awesome that this is the first team in so long,” Duffie said. “That makes it even more special. My tennis heart is so happy.”
We caught up with both captains to learn more about them, their teams and their incredible outlook on the sport.
- Susan Allerheilgen and her team
- Peggy Duffie and her team
Duffie discovered tennis the way many people do these days: in adulthood. But her journey to tennis was certainly unique.
One year, she found herself trying to motivate her daughter — who has dyslexia — to practice reading.
“I made a deal,” Duffie said. “I told her that if she did something that was hard for her, I would do something that was hard for me. I’ve never been a coordinated individual. So I told her if she read a book, I would learn to play tennis.”
Her daughter read the book, and Duffie signed up for an adult beginner class.
“It was super difficult,” she said. “I couldn’t hit and couldn’t serve. But the teaching pro, Nick, told me that I would get it and not to give up.”
Duffie was in her 40s at the time, and began playing in additional clinics, 2.5 leagues and tournaments in the USTA Southwest Section. She had caught the tennis bug.
“I should say, I lost every match I played for the first two years,” she said. “I remember that key moment of winning my first match. I continued to play because I loved it.”
Since then, it’s been non-stop tennis for Duffie and her friends.
Duffie and her partner, Eric, moved to Pennsylvania in December of 2020, and immediately began building relationships through tennis. Moving to a new place in the middle of a pandemic, they used tennis to learn about the area and meet new people. She met local USTA representative Cathy Shaak, along with local league coordinators, community advocates and local coaches.
Eventually, she met enough people to begin a new team. Duffie is now hoping to expand and grow the team even more, while making sure everyone enjoys their time along the way.
“Team tennis is the most amazing experience,” she said. “It has connected me with some of the most incredible people and some of the most incredible women I have ever known. It teaches healthy competition, the value of exercise, and offers a strong social network. Team tennis exemplifies everything that is important about the sport: supporting each other, working together, having fun and playing hard.”
Allerheilgen first became involved with USTA League in Alabama 10 years ago. Her husband’s role in the Air Force moved them to St. Louis in 2013, and she immediately joined teams there as well.
She said that’s when she gained her biggest appreciation for team tennis.
“What I enjoy most about team tennis is the camaraderie,” she said. “I still return to St. Louis to play with my team there. We are such good friends and we cheer for each other both on and off the court.”
Now in her first year as a full-season captain (she’s been acting captain on some teams in the past), Allerheilgen said she also enjoys the competition that League provides.
“I hope my players will make some new friends and have people to call when they want to play after the season is over,” she said. “USTA League is such a great way to improve your tennis game and get to know other tennis players.”
“The opportunities for district, sectional and national play are so much fun,” she added. “I am thrilled to have USTA League opportunities here in State College and central Pennsylvania in general.”