Missouri Valley / Missouri

Debbie Pell Selected as USTA Missouri Player of the Year

Josh Sellmeyer | October 07, 2022

One of Debbie Pell’s favorite components of participating in USTA leagues is traveling to compete alongside her teammates in high-stakes section championship matches. So it was a bummer last year when none of the five teams she played for qualified for the USTA Missouri Valley League Section Championships.


In a concerted effort to right that wrong, Pell put in the work on the practice courts during the fall and winter months and increased her odds by joining even more USTA Missouri district teams in 2022. Pell played for nine teams this past spring, an impressive seven of which progressed through districts to sectionals. In total, Pell played on at least 14 USTA teams dating back to last autumn.


“Every time someone asked if I wanted to be on a team, I said yes,” Pell said. “I want to get to sectionals. … I just had the captain tell me when to show up and what color to wear. That’s what they started teasing me about. ‘Debbie, you’re playing Monday and you need to wear purple.’”

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For her standout season, Pell was selected as the USTA Missouri Player of the Year. It’s the first award of any kind Pell has received in her USTA tennis career. She will be recognized at the USTA Missouri awards ceremony taking place in November. To view the full list of 2022 award winners, click here.


“I appreciate all my teammates who played on all these different teams, because they sacrificed for practicing,” Pell said. “And not only playing in the leagues but going to sectionals. I appreciate those teammates who took it serious and made the sacrifice to even go to sectionals and compete at that level. I had great teammates on all my teams. I love my teammates.”

A couple foot surgeries dropped Pell from a 4.0-level player to 3.5, which opened more options for her to compete on both 3.5- and 4.0-level teams. The recent influx of mixed leagues in the USTA Missouri district likewise afforded Pell additional play opportunities. She typically played on two to three USTA teams the past handful of years before ramping up that number in 2021 and ‘22.


“I like being on a team and just that team atmosphere of who plays well together,” Pell said. “It just seems like there is always something to work on to make you a better team. I encourage people to play USTA if they like to compete, but then I also have to say there is more involved with it than just playing once a week. Because you do want to go to sectionals and then hopefully nationals.”


It’s that strong level of competition Pell enjoys the most about her USTA experience. Pell — who also plays golf and pickleball with her family — said tennis takes work and repetition to make noticeable improvements, which she appreciates. A true sports enthusiast, Pell’s family ribs her for listening to sports-talk radio as they discuss topics like music she knows little about.


Pell recalled going to sectionals for the first time years ago and how much joy that gave her. That feeling has never really left and continues to motivate her to help her current teams reach the sectional goal. Pell was disappointed two of her section championships overlapped this year, forcing her to pick which team to play for in both Tulsa and St. Louis.


“I did not think this would happen or I wouldn’t have signed up with so many,” Pell said with a laugh. “I like to compete. I like the adrenaline it gives you. When I went to sectionals all those many years ago, that just has always stayed with me. I love going out of town and playing teams you’ve never played before. And then trying to figure out how to win.”


Though she didn’t play on an organized team, Pell began her tennis journey in high school when she and her brother hit together at a Fremont Hills tennis court in Springfield. When her family went on vacations, they’d bring along their tennis racquets to play. Pell watched a lot of tennis, too, especially at Gillenwaters Tennis Complex in the 1980s.


After competing in softball for several years, Pell returned to tennis around the turn of the century. About 15 years ago, she and her mother played on a USTA team together in Springfield. Pell’s mom — who is 81 years old — still plays about six hours each week. Every Mother’s Day Pell and her three daughters have a tradition of hitting together with Pell’s mom.


“I have two grandsons who live with us with their mom,” Pell said. “He now just knows when I start getting ready, he says, ‘Nana has tennis?’ He’s like 3. I say, ‘Yes, Nana is going to tennis.’ My husband has been very supportive. He knows I absolutely love to play, and I love to compete. When my kids were younger, that’s when I took time off and didn’t do anything. I went to all their sporting events. When they all got older, I was able to do some more things I like to do.”


Pell said she is fortunate her work schedule allows her to squeeze in so much tennis. Pell is the finance director for Project H.O.P.E., a nonprofit organization, and sells real estate as well. The flexibility those jobs offer enabled her to play at least five times a week this past tennis season. Her USTA Missouri leagues occurred on Monday through Thursday and practices got sprinkled in Friday to Sunday as well.


Pell captained two mixed adult leagues last fall and stepped up to captain her 55 & Over 3.5 women’s team during its St. Louis sectional. Pell’s two older daughters played at Logan-Rogersville High School and all three play currently. The trio took lessons when they were younger with longtime instructor Jean Larrick.

Want to get involved in USTA Missouri adult leagues? Contact Executive Director Leslie Echols at ustamissouridirector@gmail.com.




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