New England Teams Battle Weather
At 40 & Over 4.5+ League Nationals
James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | November 1, 2019
ORLANDO, FL- New England sent two teams to 40 & Over 4.5+ League Nationals at USTA’s National Campus in Orlando from October 24-26. The women from Lakeville Athletic Club in Lakeville, MA, and the men from Apex Racket & Fitness in Portland, ME, battled the heat, the rain and the best the division has to offer in hopes of bringing a title home to New England.
The women, captained by Mary Carroll and coached by Alex Howard, finished in 9th place overall, while the men, coached by Jim Litrocapes, came in 12th.
Lakeville took care of their opening opponents, Middle States, 4-1. In the match, New England got wins from No. 1 singles player, Davida Dinerman, along with all three doubles spots. The pairings included Lisa Tholen/Libby Campbell, Maureen Sumner/Hope Pascucci and Elizabeth Straub/Jen Pascucci.ADVERTISEMENT
Midway through their second match against Hawaii, the Florida rain got the best of the tournament. Players were forced to take cover and wait out the storm for nearly seven hours. Just when the New England women thought the day was a wash, the storm turned out to be a blessing in disguise and the prelude to their “moment of the tournament.”
Play resumed as the team scores were nearly even. Shortly after, with the match knotted up at two positions a piece, Jen Pascucci saw herself trailing 2-6, 2-5 at No. 1 singles and the decisive fifth position. As play resumed, she held serve and then won the next four games to take the set, 7-5. After a gruesome tiebreaker that featured lengthy rallies, Pascucci found herself with double match point up 9-7. Her Hawaii opponent battled back however to take the next two points and extend the match. Pascucci was too strong however, and followed it up with two points of her own to claim the position and match for New England.
“That was the best moment of the tournament hands down,” Carroll said. “Down the way she was and then to come back, it’s incredible. She said, “I’m going to do this,” and she sure did. We were calling her MVP all weekend.”
On the men’s side, New England had its day cut short by the storm and only played one match. The No. 3 doubles team of Todd Hermann and Owen Patrick picked up the lone position win, as New England fell to Mid-Atlantic, 4-1.
Just when it appeared the rain quota was hit for the weekend, Saturday brought an entirely new dilemma. Two more rain delays, including a severe thunder and lightning storm, forced all matches to be reduced to two best-of-four games, no-ad short sets, with the third-set tiebreaker remaining at 10 points.
The men took full advantage of the new scoring system early on, as they altered their lineup to take down the defending finalists, Northern California, 3-2. Both singles positions fell, but Litrocapes paired up 5.0 rated players, Brian Powell and Errol Nattrass, hoping to lock down first doubles, and then relied on the rest of his naturally strong doubles duos to bring it home.
The No. 2 doubles team played hero for New England, as the match was knotted up 2-2 with only that position remaining. New England’s Travis Goulder and Gregg Lipton won the first set 5-3 and with the short sets up 3-0 in the second, appeared to have the match in control. NorCal won the next three and eventually won the tiebreak, forcing a third set.
The resilience of Goulder and Lipton was dazzling however, as they bounced right back in the tiebreak. They went up 9-6 and held on, 11-9, to secure both the individual and team victory.
“It was good competition, fun to watch, lots of tiebreaks, and it really could’ve gone either way. They all battled great, especially in these conditions, where one drop of the ball can really make the difference,” Litrocapes said.
With both teams in top-four contention and hoping to play Sunday in the semifinals, each of the team’s next two matches counted that much more. The short sets however came back to haunt both teams.
The men took the first two positions in their third match against Northern and the three others all had at least one match point. But Northern’s will to win and the no-ad scoring combined to be a deadly combo for New England, as they squandered all three positions.
“There were a whole lot of ‘if olnlys,’ but we’ve also won some tiebreakers, so you can’t really think too much along those lines. Tiebreakers are tough and they could go either way. A lucky shot can change the outcome of the whole match or even tournament,” Natrass said.
Natrass went a combined 3-1 in singles and doubles for New England, with his only loss coming in the team’s opening match. He won two matches in the first doubles position with Powell, and earned a singles victory in the match against Northern.
“I felt great out there. It was a lot of fun playing with Brian. He’s good support and keeps me calm on the court. He’s got my back and I can really unleash and go for things with confidence, and I can feel loose and relaxed when I’m playing,” Nattrass said. “I’m just super psyched to be at Nationals. I moved here 18 years ago (from South Africa) and love the whole area, and the fact I can have these opportunities with USTA to play in these tournaments, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The men dropped their final match against Eastern, bringing them to 1-3 for the tournament.
“I’m pleased with how they played for sure. Am I disappointed we didn’t play Sunday, yeah, but we got here and a lot of teams wish they did, so we’re thankful for that. We appreciate the opportunity, enjoyed it and will come back again hopefully,” Litrocapes said.
The women lost their opening match on Saturday against Northern, 3-2, keeping them on the cusp of a top-four berth. A convincing win against their final opponent, Florida, would’ve given them a legitimate shot at playing on Sunday, but once again, New England was derailed by the conditions.
“The weather affected us a little more than we thought it would and not so much the Northern and Florida teams. They came out better than we expected. Had we won one more position, it may have been a little different outcome,” Carroll said.
Just about halfway through their final match, the women were forced to move indoors. The team of Straub and Jen Pascucci picked up Lakeville’s lone position win, as New England found themselves on the wrong side of the no-ad scoring throughout the other positions.
Maureen Sumner and Hope Pascucci finished 3-1 for New England in the second doubles spot, with their one loss coming in the final match.
“Hope and Maureen are incredible, and you don’t split them up. They are a team and you just mess with that,” Carroll said. “They’ve been playing together for six or seven years, and they are so in sync with each other, wear the same clothes and shoes. They’re all business and they know how to work. I don’t know how they do it.”
Davida Dinerman earned two singles wins for New England, while Carroll finished 1-3.
“It’s so nice to be on a team that’s so supportive. I went 1-3, but everyone comes over to support you after. There’s no, ‘you should’ve done this or that.’ It’s just a great sense of camaraderie,” Carroll said. “Despite having top-four expectations, we had a blast. A few of us didn’t play how we wanted to, but we’re all human and can’t be perfect every day, that’s what I keep telling them.”
Just getting to Nationals is an incredible feat in itself, and Lakeville surely would’ve had a much tougher road without Coach Howard. Howard watched, analyzed and critiqued every match down to every game and sometimes every point. He hit with the women on Thursday before the tournament started and worked with Carroll on the lineups and strategy.
“Alex is so important to us. He over analyzes everything for sure, but he does everything to make it the best for us to succeed, and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Carroll said. “From the time we won Sectionals, he just made himself available, offered us free lessons whenever we needed, and prepped us however he could so we’d be ready for Nationals. He’s amazing and would really do anything for us.”
Two New England 55 & Over 7.0 teams also competed in Surprise, AZ the same weekend.
Joan Stone lead her women’s team from Greenwich Racquet Club (Greenwich, CT) to a 12th-place finish, while Peter Surrmeier and the men from Farmington Valley Racquet Club (Simsbury, CT) took 14th. Both teams finished with a 1-3 team record.
New England will compete next from November 1-3 with 55 & Over 8.0s and Mixed 7.0 and 9.0 action.
For photos from the weekend, click here.