Missouri Valley / St. Louis

Team Constance Honors Deceased Captain, Advances to Nationals

Josh Sellmeyer | November 29, 2022


Several years ago, Rick Constance gathered a group of men to form a USTA St. Louis 8.0 squad at the 65 & Over level. Constance captained the team until his sudden passing due to complications from Covid in November 2020. Will Bealke — who played on the team before becoming captain in the aftermath of Constance’s death — called Constance a “wonderful guy.”

 

“He brought a really nice group of guys together — good players, terrific people,” Bealke said. “Sadly when Covid hit, Rick was one of the early victims. I played golf with him on a Tuesday. And the following Monday, he was gone. Just like that.

 

“I inherited the team. Pat Costigan — who’s our funniest guy, keeps us all loose, always has a joke but is a warmhearted guy — suggested we keep the name Team CONSTANCE. Rick had a habit of always capitalizing his name in all his communication with us. We’ve requested every time we’ve been entered since Rick’s passing that we’re listed in the tournament as Team CONSTANCE, all caps.”

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With Constance in their team name and on their hearts, the squad went on a magical run in 2022. After capturing a USTA St. Louis league title, the team went on an undefeated run through the USTA Missouri Valley Section Invitational this past July in Kansas City to book a ticket to USTA League Nationals. Team CONSTANCE/Bealke is set to compete for the 65s National Championship in mid-February in Surprise, Arizona.

 

“When we advanced in Kansas City we all had to hop in our cars and drive home, so we really couldn’t celebrate,” Bealke said. “We’re all in a time crunch and it had been a long weekend. But we made a point to have a victory celebration at one of our player’s homes a month later. Everyone on the team appeared. We had a wonderful evening together. To me, that’s the best part of captaining is that time you get to spend with the guys.”

That camaraderie time is one of the components Bealke and his team are most looking forward to as they prep for nationals. Five of the team’s players are going to stay at a house one mile from the tennis venue in Surprise, which Bealke said will act as the squad’s base camp. The house features a pool that may come in handy for recovery with the group playing multiple matches each day.

 

Dean Williams, the team’s co-captain and a longtime USTA captain of other teams, has put in the work researching every team competing in nationals so the group is well-prepared for what they’ll come up against. He also keeps the team abreast of any pertinent news by sending out email blasts to the squad.

 

“We’re blessed we have several players on our team who have advanced to nationals over the years at different age groups,” Bealke said. “We bring a lot of experience to nationals. But we know how tough it is. It’s very, very good teams. The competition will be tough.”

 

Bealke is one of those players who has previously competed in a national championship. His 55 & Over 7.0 team progressed to nationals in 2018, which then bumped up Bealke to the 4.0 level. In addition to captaining the 65 & over team, Bealke plays 18+, 40+ and 55+ at the 4.0/8.0 levels. He’s also the varsity boys’ tennis head coach at Saint Louis Priory School.

 

With a shortage of 4.0 players at the 65+ level, Team CONSTANCE/Bealke had to get by Jim Boone’s team to qualify for sectionals. Bealke said these two foes have locked horns each of the five years Bealke has competed at the 65+ level. Though there were several tightly contested battles along the way, Bealke’s squad ultimately won the league over Boone’s team to move on.

 

At the USTA Missouri Valley Section Invitational in KC, pool play went well for Team CONSTANCE/Bealke. After sweeping an Oklahoma team 3-0, Bealke’s group squeaked out a 2-1 win over a USTA Heart of America team. The next day, Bealke’s team won a pair of third-set tiebreakers in a 3-0 victory over a Nebraska team. Those pool-play results meant the team earned a bye into the semifinals.

 

In the Sunday morning semi, the USTA St. Louis squad caught a USTA Iowa team at a good time. The Iowa squad, which only brought seven players to the tournament, was on tired legs playing a fifth match in three days. Bealke’s team beat them to progress to the championship.

 

“When you get to sectionals, everything has to go your way,” Bealke said. “You’ve got to win all the tiebreakers. You have to guess correctly who is going to be your best opponents so you can put out your strongest pairing. Every team member is a good player and contributor, but there are certain matches you’ve got some guys you definitely want playing. But at age 65, the same guys can’t play six matches in a weekend. So it’s a juggling act.”

 

Team CONSTANCE/Bealke once again pressed the right buttons in the sectional championship, though a USTA Kansas team pushed them to the brink. Bealke’s bunch won on Court 2 and split sets on Court 1. On Court 3, USTA Kansas captured the first set then the match by winning a second-set tiebreaker. That set up a winner-take-all third-set breaker on Court 1.

 

“It was the ultimate nail-biter,” Bealke said. “All the players on both teams who weren’t on the court were lined up on a balcony overlooking the match. It was a roller coaster. Kansas was up serving 8-6 in the 10-point tiebreak. They double faulted and didn’t win another point. We won the last four points to advance to nationals.”

 

Exuberance for one team. Heartache for the other.

 

“At the same time we’re all hugging and high fiving each other, our opponents who were watching their teammates go down in defeat were just devastated right next to us,” Bealke said. “Everyone was a gentleman in that situation. Lots of congratulations all around. It was very exciting.”

 

Team CONSTANCE/Bealke flipped the script from last year’s USTA Missouri Valley Section Invitational, where the squad sent nine players to Kansas City and lost all three matches to get eliminated early. The team added two quality players this year and took 12 to KC. That depth proved critical, as each of the dozen players collected at least one win in sectional action.

 

Next up is nationals in February, where Bealke’s group is looking forward to representing USTA St. Louis, USTA Missouri Valley as well as their former team captain and friend.

 

“It’s wonderful. At our first meeting — our first dinner together on the weekend when we traveled to sectionals — we had a toast to Rick,” Bealke said. “And lots of Rick’s stories shared around the table. He was a fun guy and a real gentleman. We’re proud to carry his name on our team.”

 

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