Connecticut League Team Wins National Title
WESTBOROUGH, MA – It took just one weekend of the 2021 USTA League Nationals for New England to claim a National Championship. Captain Erin Harris and her Adult 18 & Over 3.0 Women’s team, ‘Summer Lovin’, out of Chelsea Piers in Stamford, CT, won six straight matches from Friday to Sunday at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center in Oklahoma City, OK to earn the title.
The team headlined New England’s first Nationals weekend that saw five teams compete from October 1-3 at the 18 & Over 3.0, 3.5 and 5.0 levels in Phoenix & Surprise, AZ and in Oklahoma City.
After a 17-year lull of no tennis, Harris decided two years ago it was time to pick up a racquet once again. But she did it under her own condition that she had to compete for a National Championship. Last year, her teams reached Districts but did not have enough players to compete in the summer. So this year, she formed a team with talented players, all of whom were great sports, easy to get along with and were coachable.
“Before I registered a team with USTA, I said, ‘we're building a team and going to Nationals’. Some sort of believed me, some were like, ‘yeah, sure,’” Harris said. “The goal was to get them to Nationals, but once we started doing work and saw how things were fitting into place during the 6-8 weeks of training, I really thought we could win it. We had some other local captains telling us they believed in us as well, so it lit a fire under us.”
The dream almost ended on day one for Harris’ squad however, as they opened up their Nationals slate against arguably the best team in the draw, from USTA Midwest. And to make matters worse, their originally scheduled 8 am Friday match was moved the night before to 11 am, and then at 4 am, much to the team’s surprise, was moved back to 8.
Scrambling to get to the courts in time with little warm up and no coffee, New England rolled up and played their hearts out.
The team dropped both the Nos. 1 and 2 doubles spots, which included Harris losing her first match of the season, 3-6, 6-4, 0-1, with partner Allyson Wuensch. But they battled to the finish and ended up taking the No. 3 doubles position as well as both singles matches, thanks to wins from the pair of Susan Carroll & Marjorie Eilertsen and Valentina Ziganshina and Anne Franscioni respectively.
“We knew Midwest was one of the top teams, and we knew if we could get past this match, we could get to Sunday,” Harris said. “This was the match we wanted to be most focused for, and it didn’t start out great for us, but we came in prepared with a good game plan, and they really carried me and picked me up.”
Harris said her teammates' support was the story of the tournament. Not in the clearest head space, Harris, who lost her dog tragically the day she left for Nationals, relied on her teammates for both on and off-court support.
“My body was there but my mind just wasn’t. I hadn’t ever lost a 3.0 match and lost two at Nationals. I’m not unhappy about it, but so happy with how everyone else played,” Harris said. “They rallied around me so much, and they have the entire year. They’ve been so motivated to make this a good experience, and they really turned it on this weekend. I’ve seen a real evolution in my players in just the six weeks we’ve been practicing together for Nationals.”
Harris’ squad stormed through the next three matches with ease, earning the No. 1 seed heading into Sunday and setting up a semifinal rematch with Midwest.
Following their opening match, Midwest also ran the table, going 3-0 without dropping an individual position (15-0) and cruising into the semifinals as the No. 4 seed.
While much more prepared this time around, New England clung to the exact same 3-2 narrowly-contested margin as in their opening match.
Franscioni led the way at No. 2 singles for New England, winning her fifth straight singles match. Harris and Wuensch avenged their opening loss by taking the top doubles position, 6-4, 6-7, 1-0, and Carroll & Eilertsen took their third straight doubles match of the weekend.
“Honestly, Midwest should’ve been in the finals, they were that good. And they could’ve beaten us on any given day, we just played our cards right with lineups, and that’s why I believe we beat them,” Harris said. “It was a really competitive match, however we found a great camaraderie between our teams. They were not an antagonistic team at all. They were a cool group and cheered respectfully all tournament, and it was a joy to play them twice.”
In the finals, it was a battle of the unbeatens, as New England squared off against 5-0 Intermountain. Once again, New England came away with a 3-2 victory, capped off by Franscioni's sixth win in a row and the fourth consecutive from Carroll & Eilertsen. Harris and Lee Wipper also picked up a three-set win at the No. 1 doubles spot.
“I don’t know how Anne (Franscioni) did it all tournament. She had tough matches, and kept her composure and showed great court etiquette. I tried to take her out of the singles spot to lighten her load, but she refused and kept raising the bar,” Harris said. Marjorie (Eilertsen) and Susan (Carroll) just make an amazing duo and dominated so easily. They have an awesome friendship and partnership, and they made it easy so I didn’t have to worry about them.”
So thanks to her teammates, and after months of preparation, hardships and rallying around one another, Harris’ National Championship dream became a reality.
“It was so exciting, most of us don’t even have a voice after. We screamed and cried and screamed and cried some more until we got back to the hotel that night. It was the most incredible weekend,” Harris said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we all worked together, set goals, manifested those goals, and everyone is on cloud nine. They truly made this dream happen for me. And now I know we’ll be back to more Nationals.”
On the men’s side, Captains Vivek Allu and Tanay Patri led their 3.5 team out of Waltham Athletic Club in Waltham, MA to a seventh-place finish in Surprise. The team dropped its opening match on Friday against Florida, but strung together three straight victories to close out the tournament. They finished in a five-way tie for third place but missed the semifinals by two individual positions.
“It was a tough first match for us with all three of our losses coming in third-set super tiebreaks. We went back and discussed our strategy for the next match in the afternoon against the defending champions Texas, and beat them 3-2,” Allu said. “We were always positive in our team meetings and are very proud of our group of amazing guys who always put the team first. We’d also like to say a big thank you to USTA New England for their support and encouragement.”
Victorious Secret, the 3.5 women’s team out of Solaris Racquet Club in Stamford, CT, was led by Liza Wong and Monica Young. The team finished 1-3 in Surprise, good for 12th place overall. Jessica Fu led the way for the ladies, finishing 4-0 in both singles and doubles. New England picked up their lone win against Middle States.
The 3.0 men’s team out of The Woodlands Club in Falmouth, ME finished 12th overall in Oklahoma City. Tim Lacombe led the men to a 5-15 position record throughout the weekend. Christopher Davis went 3-1 in singles and doubles for The Woodlands.
Jason Sucoll captained the 5.0 men’s team out of Big Sky Fitness & Tennis in Farmington, CT. The team finished in 12th place in Phoenix with a 1-11 position record. John Holschlag earned the team’s lone position win of the weekend.
Competing next for New England are the Adult 18 & Over 4.5s and 2.5 women, as well as the Adult 40 & Over 4.0s. They will be playing from October 8-10 in Oklahoma City, and Surprise and Scottsdale, AZ.
League Nationals photos can be seen here.
For complete Nationals results, click here.
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