dramatic jtt sectionals sends four to nationals
James Maimonis, Communications and Engagement Coordinator | August 20, 2018
AMHERST & NORTHAMPTON, MA- New England Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectionals is a championship event unlike any other. Top JTT teams in the section vie for the ultimate prize—a chance to represent New England at Nationals in Orlando, all while displaying praiseworthy sportsmanship throughout. Nineteen of New England’s best JTT teams battled this year from August 15-16 at Amherst and Smith Colleges in a competitive, fun-filled event that brought hundreds of families and friends together.
“It’s amazing to see such high-level competition and sportsmanship intertwined at a championship event. We are so proud of all the teams that competed and honored to have the top four represent New England at Nationals,” said Jon Kostek, USTA New England Youth Play Manager and tournament director.
Teams from all seven New England Districts: Eastern and Western Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island, competed in their local leagues throughout the summer for a chance at reaching their respective District Championships. ADVERTISEMENT District winners from each division: 18U Advanced, 18U Intermediate, 14U Advanced and 14U Intermediate moved on to compete at Sectionals.
Here are the four teams advancing to Nationals in November:
MadRackets, out of Madison Racquet and Swim Club in Madison, CT, kicked off 2018 Sectionals in a big way. It was the only finals decided on Wednesday and something had to give, as the four-time defending 14U Intermediate champs from Madison squared off against defending 14U Advanced champs, Sippican Racquet Club, from Marion, MA.
In their first year competing in the advanced division, Madison was more than prepared for the test. They rolled past Sippican, 5-0, taking 39 games to Sippican’s seven. New England 12 and Under junior singles champion Ava Esposito set the tone early with a 4-0, 4-0 girls’ singles victory, while now three-time JTT Sectionals winners Sebastien Lowy cruised in boys doubles, 4-0, 4-1.
“Sectionals was really fun and the highlight of the year for me. We knew going in our goal again was Nationals, and we worked just as hard to get back there,” Lowy said.
“This team is very supportive of each other and that makes it more fun to play for,” Esposito said. “I feel I had more responsibility this year playing singles, but knowing I could change the outcome of the match with my score just keeps me going.”
In addition to Lowy and Esposito, MadRackets was comprised of: Andrew Sack, Breanna DiBello, Claire Langille, Elliott Booth, Will De Chabert and 14U Advanced girls sportsmanship winner, Bella Vejar. The team was coached by Becky Chase.
“It’s pretty cool we’re keeping up the tradition. Some players have been to nationals so it will be good to have that experience, and others are up and coming, so we have a good mix,” Chase said. “The biggest adjustment we made moving up to the advanced division was upgrade in practices. We have more regular attendees who have taken tennis quite seriously in own lives and are open minded to learning and growing and working hard. We try our best to work our players hard while developing good camaraderie and sportsmanship on a regular basis.”
Will Vrattos, of Sippican, took home the boys’ sportsmanship honors.
It was undoubtedly the most exciting, dramatic and heartbreaking finish of the tournament, as New England Tennis Center held off Norwalk Grassroots Tennis by a single game to advance to Nationals.
By a win total of 142-141 games won, New England Tennis Center, out of Orchard Hills Athletic Club in Lancaster, MA, took the top spot in its first year competing as a team.
“Norwalk was fantastic. The kids were phenomenal on and off the court, and they were a very excited group, which was tough to play against. We kept it close against them and did our work against the other teams as well,” said Coach Ryan Holmes.
Despite losing 31-26 to Norwalk in its third match, New England Tennis Center held it together to pick up a convincing win against Northampton in its final contest. Norwalk Grassroots controlled their destiny from there, needing a 40-game max score in the final match to punch its ticket. They fell just short, dropping one set and taking 39 games.
“The competition was extremely tough and we played well enough when we needed to. We played well in important situations to take the title, Holmes said. “Being our first year even having a JTT program at the club, it says a ton about how committed and excited these kids were to play. We know it meant a lot to them and they were nervous, so it was very special and we were fortunate to come out with one more game than the other team.”
New England Tennis Center also earned early tournament victories against Essex Edge and Hampshire Hills.
Holmes added, “Our goal was to go to Orlando to play tennis because for a lot of these players, this may be their only opportunity to play at National event.”
Norwalk players swept the 14U Intermediate sportsmanship awards, with the girls’ honor going to Layla Magnusen and Tyson Nichols winning for the boys.
On Wednesday, the 18U Advanced flight featured an exciting three-team race involving Edgewood Pool and Tennis Club, MadRackets and Nashua Swim and Tennis Club. On Thursday, Edgewood gained separation and never looked back.
“It feels great and was an amazing experience for me and kids. We’re all happy to be at Sectionals, and JTT is amazing all around and one of the best ways to grow the game,” said Coach Fil Miguel.
Edgewood, which has played together for years and consists of many of Miguel’s students, added a few new players this year to round out the team and strengthen it big time.
Led by boys’ singles standout, No. 4 ranked 16s player in New England, Alex Finkelstein, Edgewood swept the flight, going 5-0. They finished with 188 total games, ahead of MadRackets’ 161 and Nashua’s 160, which finished second and third respectively.
The competition was excellent, and you have to go out and trust that the kids are going to do what they need to do on court,” Miguel said. “These kids aren’t new to tennis, but many of them are tournament players, and this a nice break from their regular routine, so it’s nice to see them now being able to be here competing for their teammates.”
The Edge Essex, Berkshire and Enfield rounded out the flight.
18U Advanced sportsmanship awards went to a pair of players from MadRackets. Lindsay Riordan took home the girls’ honor while Gianni Esposito won the award for the boys.
The underdog story of the tournament came from the 18U Intermediate flight. The close-knit team called OOF, from Granite State Kids in New Hampshire, fell just short of earning an automatic bid to Sectionals after falling to Hampshire Hills at the New Hampshire District Championships. However, to their surprise, they were awarded the one and only wild card spot of the tournament and were given a second chance to prove what they knew they were capable of.
“The kids thought they had a good chance at Districts, but when they came up just short, they were extremely disappointed and thought they let their opportunity slip away,” said Jana Suozzo, who took over for her son, Zach, as coach for Sectionals. “Once that wild card popped up, it was like ‘Merry Christmas’ for us. No one expected that. This was our gift and we knew had to bring it. They wanted it so badly that they didn’t come in feeling like wild cards, but a team with a second chance and fresh start.”
During the winter and summer seasons, Zach coached and captained the team, but once Sectionals rolled around and his focus grew greater, he gladly handed the reigns over to his mother, who has coached and mentored many of the players on the team for years.
With six teams in the 18U Intermediate flight, Sectionals once again came down to the two New Hampshire powerhouses, but this time around, the wild card upended the champion. OOF led Hampshire Hills 106-92 games after day one, thanks largely in part to the 33-21 victory over their in-state rivals. Thanks to convincing victories on day two, they were able to maintain their margin and hold off Hampshire Hills, 181-172.
“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,” Suozzo said.
Two players from OOF, Taylor Suozzo and Nick Schlapak, competed at Nationals last year for the NH Rogues team. New Hampshire led the field after day one, but dropped to 13th out of 15 by tournament’s end, which was something Jana Suozzo made sure didn’t happen at Sectionals.
“The energy level wasn’t there for some players on day two, and that’s where I think I come into play. I’m more of the moral support, where Zach does more of the lineups and strategizing,” Suozzo said. “I come from a different place and can talk to them and fix them up when they feel defeated. They just pushed, focused and excelled and were able to get the job done.”
Suozzo noted that to keep their focus, her players made little mention of Nationals throughout the tournament, however on the ride home, it was the only topic discussed. Being the incredibly tight-knit team they are, all players went back to the Suozzo house and spent the night, celebrating and discussing their upcoming trip to Orlando.
In addition to Zach and Taylor Suozzo and Nick Schlapak, OOF was made up of Carley Citron, Liam Grennon, Miranda Shilling and Shu Grosso.
Rounding out the 18U Intermediate field were the following teams in their finishing order: Maine, Guilford, Edgewood and Montpelier.
Ben Trovato from Edgewood and Elizabeth Tchantouridze from Montpelier took home 18U Intermediate sportsmanship awards.
In addition to the four flights advancing to Nationals, Sectionals featured a 12U green ball tournament on Thursday. Three teams competed: Rocky Hill, Guilford and Lee, with Rocky Hill taking the top spot. They outlasted Guilford, 48-34 games to take home the title. Guilford’s Zoe Tsoukanelis took home the sportsmanship award.
Nationals will take place at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. The 14U divisions will compete from November 1-4, while the 18Us will play the following weekend, November 8-11.
For compete JTT Sectionals results, click here.
To view photos from JTT Sectionals, click the below links: