OOF ‘Family’ Enjoying
JTT Nationals Build Up
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | October 19, 2018
BEDFORD, NH- Team OOF, the New England 18U Intermediate Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectional Champions out Bedford, NH, is heading to JTT Nationals at USTA’s National Campus in Orlando from November 9-11.
OOF is led by University of New Hampshire freshman, player/coach Zach Suozzo, his mother, Jana, and six of his best friends, including his younger sister, Taylor.
“They are some of the nicest kids I’ve ever met in my life,” Jana Suozzo said. “They have tremendous respect for each other, which is huge and they’re all about fun. They never get mad at each other when they aren’t playing well, and when one person’s frustrated, they all lift that person up.”
Zach started OOF last year after having individual success at the JTT District level but continuously failing to advance to Sectionals as a team. ADVERTISEMENT He wrangled up a group of his friends and family and constructed what has undoubtedly been the most entertaining and successful team of his life.
“Putting together a bunch of my buddies and playing, I mean come on, you can’t dream that up,” he said. “We’re all from different towns too, and I know them from all different things. We’re all solid tennis players and now we’re all going to a national tournament as best friends. That’s the best.”
So how did they get the name OOF?
“We had a name previously but it was a little inappropriate, especially if we got to a Sectional of National level, so we wanted to tone it down a little bit,” Zach said. “We had a couple names in mind, but OOF is what we stuck with. I can’t even explain why. It’s just funny. Whenever an adult comes up to me asking what OOF stands for, I just say, ‘nothing.’ It literally stands for nothing.”
It’s evident to anyone who has seen OOF in action or hung around with any of its members on or near a court that the nature of this team is to have fun. The feeling is contagious and Zach is at the forefront of that, however he also takes his leadership role extremely seriously and understands the effort it takes to sustain success at this stage.
“Coaching this team is definitely tough, especially from college. I have to focus on school first, but I have a pretty amazing thing going on here too that I have to put a lot of time into,” he said. “One of my expectations as manager is that we would all practice on our own outside of team practices in order to keep our skills toned. Each player is just dedicated to be the best player they can be, not only of the team, but for themselves and their high school careers, and that makes it a little easier for me.”
Each player on this team is certainly dedicated to their individual tennis career, but more importantly, is devoted to one another. That feeling was never more evident than earlier this year when the Suozzos suffered from the untimely loss of Jana’s husband and Zach’s and Taylor’s father. But when someone on this team is down, it’s a guarantee that the others will be there to pick them up.
“When I say I’m really good friends with these kids, they’re best friends with my family too. This is more than a team. They always hang out at our house, and especially after we lost our dad, they’d be over every weekend,” Zach said. “These guys have helped my family with so much. You can tell how much they mean to us and we mean to them. It’s a different dynamic here than you’ll get anywhere else.”
OOF’s Road To Nationals
It’s been an exciting yet difficult journey for the fun-loving OOF team. After falling to a team from Hampshire Hills Athletic Club at the New Hampshire State Championships, OOF’s highly anticipated Sectionals berth was put in jeopardy. Thanks to a favorable wild card structure however, the team snuck in as the last contender at 18U Sectionals at Amherst and Smith Colleges in August.
“We lost at States, and that was horrible. I was so ready to advance with this team, and then to lose, I was so crushed,” Zach said. “But then getting the wild card to Sectionals, that was crazy. If you ask me, it actually helped us. We brought it back together and knew we had to put everything into Sectionals.
And that they did, sweeping the field that they once thought they’d have been left out of. Their marquee win came in match two, as they cruised past Hampshire Hills, 33-21, thrusting them into first place and providing them the momentum they needed to maintain their perfect 5-0 record.
“That win against Hampshire Hills was the turning point and go them going. We had the momentum and had to prove to ourselves we belonged here and couldn’t blow this chance,” Jana said.
In the end, OOF outlasted second-place Hampshire Hills by a slim total of nine games won, 181-172.
Nick Schlapak (18), Dover, NH
Years playing JTT- 3
Best JTT memory- Winning Sectionals was cool. Last year, I won Sectionals with a different team (NH Rogues), but I was only there for one match because I got there late, so I didn’t get to experience the whole day. So getting that opportunity this year was great.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I like to work out. I go to school at Manhattanville College, and all I’ve been really doing is going to class, playing tennis, working out and eating, so I enjoy all of the above. Personally, I love coming down here, it’s a whole lot of fun.
What makes this team so special? We’re all really good players, and we’re always having fun. No matter what, we’re always enjoying ourselves. We obviously wanted to win Sectionals, but our number one goal was to have fun, and it turned out that winning came with that. It’s also a nice change for me from tennis at school. It’s fun there, but not as enjoyable as playing here with all my friends.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? It was really cool getting to go to Florida last year with the NH Rogues. It was a lot more tennis than I thought, and by the end of the day, I was kind of hurting, so I have to be more ready for that. All around, it was one of the best times I’ve ever had, so I can’t wait to go back with these guys.
Miranda Shilling (17), Bedford, NH
Years playing JTT- 1. I met Zach last year and he asked me if I wanted to play in his summer league. I thought it would be a great opportunity to stay outdoors and play a sports I love with friends. I was happy to join and happy he asked. It was a really fun summer, I made some new friends, and I’ve never been to a large tennis event like Sectionals, so it was definitely one of coolest summers I’ve had.
Best JTT memory- One day we had a match and about half hour in, it started torrentially down pouring and we were all crowded under a little tent. Then we all decided to go to chipotle after and just piled in the back of one car. It was a really fun lunch. We came back in the afternoon after the courts had dried and just played more tennis. It was kind of surreal being able to spend a whole day doing something I love with people I enjoyed spending time with. That day made me so happy.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I’ve been ski racing since I was seven and I’m actually looking to go to college for ski racing. I also play field hockey for my school. I’m president of our Model UN club and am super into international relations, global issues and innovative problem solving. I also love to bake. I make the team chocolate cookies a lot. I kind of just bake on a whim because it’s fun. Lastly, I enjoy spending time with my family, and playing golf and tennis with my older brother.
What makes this team so special? For us, winning isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal. But instead, it’s to have fun and to get better in our respective sport. I think that sometimes when you’re too driven to win the trophy or state championship, it can detract from the character of your team and how effective you are in your performance. I think because we care more about each other and about having a good time playing this sport, we’re more successful because we’re able to look past the pressures that are produced by the desire to win.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? I’ve never been to Florida so I’m really excited about that. I’ve heard really great things the USTA National Campus, so I’m rally looking forward to that. I’m excited to hit with people I’ve never hit with before, watch some good tennis, and maybe go to a Disney park or two. I definitely think I’m there for the experience as a whole, and I’m not sure what it’s going to bring, but I’m excited for whatever happens.
Taylor Suozzo (15), Bedford, NH
Years playing JTT- 5
Best JTT memory- This year, hanging out with the team. They’d all come over to our house and hang out and stay up late and have fun.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I needed something to do to stay fit, so recently I’ve started running a lot and working out.
What makes this team so special? All the girls are my best friends and the guys are my brother’s best friends, so we all bond in that way. Everyone likes playing with other and loves each other.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? Last year I went to Nationals as a fill-in for another New Hampshire team (NH Rogues). I just got put on the team so I felt a little like an outsider, but this year I feel like I’m part of the team, won some matches and earned it, so I’m ready to do it together with these guys.
Shu Grosso (14), Merrimack, NH
Years playing JTT- 5
Best JTT memory- Playing doubles with Taylor. We always have a blast. Even if we’re down, we’re up, so it’s always a fun time.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I like to fiddle with computers. I just like playing around with them and fixing them. And of course, hanging out with these goobers.
What makes this team so special? We’re all really good friends. Usually the closer knit the team, the better you play together. If you know what each other’s preferences and weaknesses are, it’s easier to carry them if they’re down.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? I want to see the National Campus. It’s going to be great experiencing and new atmosphere, especially meeting all kinds of kids around my age.
Liam Grennon (16), Concord, NH
Years playing JTT- 1. I know Zach from a mutual coach and he asked me to play. The first year has been fun. There are definitely a lot of new rules that I’m not used to, but it’s been good.
Favorite activity besides tennis- Lots of schoolwork. I basically do school and tennis. I run Model UN at school and I have fun doing that.
What makes this team so special? We have a lot of self-driven people and people willing to come out to the court and practice. It’s not mandatory but they just want to come hit with the team.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? Just playing down there with everyone should be a lot of fun and representing New England.
Carley Citron (15), Bedford, NH
Years playing JTT - 3
Best JTT memory- Three years ago, our team went to Sectionals, and it was just so much fun. That was my first real experience with JTT, and even though we came in last, we still had so much fun.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I pretty much just play tennis. I play every day and play tournaments on the weekends.
What makes this team so special? We’re really close and always go over the Suozzos house. It’s always a party.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? I’m excited to see how everything goes. We weren’t supposed to t Sectionals, but we got the wild card and now we’re going to Nationals, so that’s pretty awesome. I’m so excited, so hyped. And if we could win something, it would be sick.
Nick Bayer (15), Bedford, NH
Years playing JTT- 2
Best JTT memory- This year when we went to Sectionals. For hockey, my brother has been to Nationals three times and it’s great for me to get the opportunity to go for once.
Favorite activity besides tennis- I love playing hockey. I play for the travel team, the Manchester Flamers, which is lots of fun.
What makes this team so special? Lots of us are really close, really good friends and that just makes the team a lot better than if we were random people that came together.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? Definitely the experience. It’s always great to feel like you know you earned something. It’s nice to know you’ve been rewarded for winning.
Zach Suozzo (18), Bedford, NH
Years playing JTT- 7
Best JTT memory- I’ve had so many good memories, but putting together a bunch of my buddies and playing, I mean come on, you can’t dream that up. We’re all from different towns too, and I know them from all different things. We’re all solid tennis players and now we’re all going to a national tournament as best friends. That’s the best.”
Favorite activity besides tennis- Frisbee and listening to music. In frisbee, you can just run. Football is also a lot of running, but I’m a skinny guy. I can’t get hit. I’m fragile, so in Frisbee you can just run like crazy and throw the thing around. And if you have music going, it’s amazing, it’s the best. We have our own playlist for Nationals as well and it’s really brought us together as a team.
What makes this team so special? They’re all so dedicated. I’m not really a coach, I’m a player. So I’ll text these guys Sunday afternoon and say, ‘Hey, practice Monday,’ and we’re all here.
What are you most excited for at Nationals? I can’t talk enough about it. I wasn’t on the NH Rogues team last year but went as an assistant coach. I had too high a ranking to play with the intermediate team, but I kept losing so I went down and was actually competing. I experienced how fun Nationals is and I’ve seen the level of competition. The team came in second to last place but they loved every minute of it. And now I get to play in it, so I’m pumped.
For information on JTT Nationals, click here.