PUERTO RICO TEAM
PUTTING LIFE, TENNIS IN PERSPECTIVE
Dan Pyser | September 23, 2017
We are often reminded that there are some things in life bigger than sports.
The Top Spinners, champions of the USTA Caribbean Section for the 14-and-under Intermediate division, were reminded of that this week before they traveled to Orlando for the USTA Junior Team Tennis National Championships.
The Top Spinners are from Puerto Rico, with players hailing from all across the island. They represent a traditionally strong Caribbean Section, which took home the national title in the same division a year ago.
While still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irma, which barreled through the Caribbean and wreaked havoc on the state of Florida and southern United States, Hurricane Maria devastated the island last week.
In anticipation of the storm, flights were canceled and the ones that remained were sold out. ADVERTISEMENT Coach Carlos Vega was already in Florida on vacation and soon realized that his team would not be able to join him.
When a last-second flight opened up earlier in the week, some parents quickly scooped up tickets for themselves and their players. But when it became clear not all players had tickets, some parents gave up their seats so the full team could travel, staying behind in Puerto Rico with the storm closing in.
The flight was the last one off the island before the airport closed.
Now, for Coach Vega, who already had the daunting task of trying to secure another national championship for the Caribbean Section, he now had to keep his team focused despite everything that was happening back home.
“The kids are doing great, but they cannot concentrate for that long,” he said. “Sometimes during the match, sometimes after the match. But for the most part, they’re having fun and everyone here is treating us very very kindly.”
Vega and the traveling contingent of parents have been trying to keep spirits up and the focus on the tennis. They’re encouraging the players to stay off their phones so not to be overwhelmed by the media coverage.
At the same time, many of the players are anxiously waiting to speak with their families; communication from the island is limited at best. Vega has not spoken with his family since the storm hit.
The team has had success, though, going 2-1 in group play and finishing second in their group by a mere 19 games.
“They’re very competitive and they’re doing pretty well, much to my surprise,” their coach said. “Not because of their talent, but with everything that’s happened.”
Heading into the playoff stage of the tournament, they’ll be competing for fifth place in the country, an impressive feat for any team.
“I told them, just being here is already a gain," Vega said. "So I don’t care about the outcome. I know you probably hear that a lot, but I sincerely do not care about the outcome. I’m just trying to make the best of this.”
The complications won’t end when the tournament concludes on Sunday. The team’s flights back to Puerto Rico have already been canceled. Parents have bought extra suitcases to bring back supplies.
“I know nothing is waiting for us back home,” Vega said. “It’s going to be so difficult so I just want them to have fun while we’re here.”