A College Tennis Atmosphere in Mobile
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | March 10, 2017
New England Players and Coaches Compete at National Spring Team Championships
MOBILE, AL- The L1 USTA National Spring Team Championships are unlike any other junior tournament. The annual event provides high performance juniors a one-of-a-kind tennis experience that prepares them for college while teaching them the value of sportsmanship and playing on a team.
Players competing in the 14s to 18s divisions from all USTA sections are placed together on a team via a waterfall draw, which ensures both unfamiliarity with teammates and parity throughout the field. The format of play resembles that of college tennis, with six singles matches and three doubles.
Eight New England juniors and two local coaches were thrown into the mix at the 60-court Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, AL from March 4-8. With just a day of practice and team building before matches began, it was imperative that egos were put aside and team support rose to the forefront.
Director of the MAC (Manchester Athletic Club)Tennis Academy, Francisco Montoya, coached one of the boys’ teams, and was extremely pleased to see the instant connection his players developed.
“You’d think these guys had been getting ready and playing together for a year the way they were cheering, hugging and interacting,” he said. “This tournament has that feel where every match counts, and someone different has to step up every time, and that really inspired these players to work harder for one another.
Montoya’s team reached the semifinals and grabbed fourth place, the highest finish for a team featuring a New England player or coach.
Danielle Monteith, who works as the MAC’s academy travel coach, brought her vast coaching knowledge to Mobile as well, as she led a girls’ team. Like Montoya, Monteith emphasized the support and bonding aspects of the tournament while leading by example.
On the first day, Monteith took her players to the gym to work out, much to their displeasure.
“No one wanted to be there, so it was a great way to bond over something they hated,” she said. “By end of it, we were laughing and joking and talking about music and other random topics and we quickly formed that connection.”
Maintaining that unbreakable team bond, which emulates an authentic college experience, was Monteith’s chief focus throughout the tournament, more so than wins and losses.
“Whether we came in first or last, I wanted them to understand the importance of being part of a team like this,” Monteith said. “I can’t change technique in four days, so it’s the support aspect that helps the most. These girls all aspire to play in college, and it’s important to have that interaction with them, because they then want to go support one another when it counts most.”
Fifteen-year-old Sasha Wood, of Topsfield, MA, has her eye set on collegiate tennis in a few years. The No. 2 ranked Girls’ 16s player in New England has played in this tournament three times and always makes sure to take advantage of the experience.
“Each year has been unique and there have been different girls on my team, each with varying personalities and playing styles. So to me, competing on a different team each year has given me this type of ‘college team’ experience,” Wood said. “It has also shown me that a huge part of college tennis is spent with your team, so it is important that you are able to bond and connect with your teammates. I have been fortunate enough to be on an encouraging and friendly team every year that I have attended this tournament and feel that their support has helped me to focus during difficult matches.”
Last year, Wood helped her team earn a Gold Ball, and although the result wasn’t the same this year, her positive attitude and fair play were rewarded with a Sportsmanship Award.
Wood, along with fellow New Englanders Lexi Kubas, Ryan Fu and Nastasya Semenovski, all took home Sportsmanship Awards throughout the event.
“I cannot express how much it means to receive a Sportsmanship Award at this tournament. It is difficult, because many players become caught up in their efforts to win their match and end up forgetting how to carry themselves in a respectful manner. I have learned that it is extremely important to remain true to your personal values even in challenging situations,” Wood said.
Unique to the Team Championships are Sportsmanship Awards for parents and coaches as well, and Wood’s father, John, was recognized with an award for his outstanding character off the court.
“I believe that good sportsmanship should be displayed even off of the court; so seeing my dad receive this award as well was an excellent compliment to our family,” she added. “He has always supported my tennis and encouraged me during my matches, so it is very nice to see him acknowledged for his sportsmanlike behavior.”
“I was thrilled when Sasha was chosen as Sportsmanship Award winner and blown away when informed that I had been awarded with a Parent Sportsmanship Award,” John said. “It was without a doubt my proudest moment as a parent that my daughter was chosen, and that I in a very small way, was able to share in a proud moment together. I think it's a great idea to award a parent who shows good sportsmanship because it makes parents aware that not only are their children responsible for themselves and how they act on the court, but also the parents and their behavior off the court.”
Nikita Larichev, Connor Fu, Grace Joyce and Samantha Svendsen also represented New England at the tournament. Joyce’s team took home the Team Spirit Award.
In addition to the 18s, 16s and 14s, the 12s division competed in a separate team championship event in Tucson, AZ. Olivia Lincer and Madeleine Swire competed for New England, while coaches Nancy Grimes, Jamey Finchum, Kelly Day, Nestor Bernabe, Ryan Adamonis and Jared Flick all led teams throughout the week.
For more photos from the tournament, click here.