Teams Prepare For
USTA League Sectionals
Craig Ellenport | June 13, 2019
More than 300,000 tennis players have competed this year in USTA League, the country’s largest adult competitive tennis league. Some are just in it for the fun and recreation. For others, though, the ultimate goal is reaching the USTA League National Championships that take place in October and November. To get there, teams must first get through Sectionals.
The USTA League’s 17 geographic sections host multiple Sectional tournaments based on age group and talent level. For the teams that were successful enough to earn a spot in Sectionals, this means summer travel and the pressure of heightened competition, with a bit of fun mixed in for good measure.
“Everyone should enjoy themselves; it’s a mini-vacation with some tennis thrown in,” said Whitney Hess, captain of a West Virginia-based 3.5 Men’s 18 & Over team that is headed for the Midwest Sectional, July 26-28, in Dayton, Ohio. ADVERTISEMENT Hess acknowledged that it might get more serious at the higher skill levels, but a 3.5 team should focus on having fun.
“While we are not going to be conceding anything on the court, I think our team has the right attitude to handle whatever happens, win or lose,” he said.
Regardless of skill level, one constant at Sectionals is that the competition is always tougher than it is in local USTA League play.
“We’re from San Antonio, so our tennis pool, I would say, is pretty small,” said Sheree Gordon, who captains a 4.0 18 & Over team. “So when you get to Sectionals, you get to play with players from Dallas and Houston, and you get to see a lot of different types of players. The competition is always much better the further up you go.”
Gordon’s team will practice as much as possible before they travel to Richardson, Texas, for the three-day Sectional that begins Aug. 9. They’re also playing in a summer league to stay sharp. Most of the team has been together for several years, though Gordon has made a few changes from year to year when players that can improve the team become available.
“You’re always as strong as your weakest link, so I always like to try to keep my weakest link stronger,” she said. “It’s not a fun part of the tennis thing, but it’s necessary. There’s a big difference between a competitive team and what we call a country-club team.”
That doesn’t mean she can’t make it an enjoyable experience. In the past, Gordon and her teammates have rented a vacation home together.
“We try to do fun things,” she said. “We try to get together once a month for movies or dinner. After each of our matches on Saturdays, we’ll go grab some lunch or drinks, that kind of thing, to build the camaraderie off the field, as well, so that my players can get more comfortable with each other.”
Lina Shanley is captaining several teams in this year’s Sectionals—8.0 and 9.0 18 & Over mixed doubles, a ladies' 40 & Over team and an 8.0 40 & Over mixed. The 18 & Over mixed is in July in Sunriver, Ore.; the ladies' 40 & Over is in Portland in August; the 40 & Over mixed is in Yakima, Wash., in late September.
“That’s a little off the radar because it’s so far down the road,” Shanley said of the September Sectional. “One thing at a time.”
Shanley has been to Sectionals in the Pacific Northwest multiple times. She said it’s always “super-competitive,” but she still enjoys seeing some of the same people there every year—some from quite far away.
“Alaska is part of our section, so we see players from Alaska every year that we have gotten to know. It’s great,” she said.
If any of Shanley’s teams advance, their next stop would be the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., for Nationals. Shanley said that’s when her job actually gets a little easier.
“All of the teams are good, so it’s just about going out there and playing your best. It’s more about the tennis than matchups or strategy.”
Still, there is something to be said for preparation. Lorna Jaquess (holding the sign in the photo above), who is captain of a 7.0 18 & Over mixed team going to the Arizona Sectionals in September, likes to focus on mental toughness in practice.
“When practicing, I put them in different situations—people talking loudly, people cheering with bad etiquette, people walking close by to your court, bad line calls, bad sportsmanship,” said Jaquess, who has captained five different teams the last two seasons. “You can implement these environments for practices, but every teammate has to honestly work on their mental game themselves as much as possible.”
Jaquess echoed the thoughts of other captains, who are proud of their teams and looking forward to the experience.
“Sectionals is a fun, exciting atmosphere,” she said. “Great tennis all around.”
For the teams that advance in Sectionals, here is the schedule for USTA League National Championships taking place at various locations in October and November.