NorCal Mixed 18 & Over 9.0 Adult League Team Clinches National Championship Title
USTA NorCal teams continue to bring home some impressive results at the 2022 USTA League National Championships, and we are proud to announce that another NorCal team has won it all against 17 other sections. The Mixed 18 and over 9.0 St. Ignatius team has recently been crowned the champions of their division in Surprise, Ariz. on November 4-6, 2022.
We caught up with captain Jennifer Kung to hear about the team’s journey at Nationals where they brought home the gold.
Plus, stay tuned for an overview of all of the teams who went to Nationals and represented our NorCal section coming soon!
Mixed 18 & Over 9.0 Captain Jennifer Kung:
Our journey started last year when a few of us met through a team that made it to 9.0 Nationals in 2021. We didn’t end up reaching the semi-finals, but during that trip, Tina, Kaz, and I began floating the idea of forming our own team for the upcoming season—one strong enough to get us back to Nationals and win it all. This idea became more real when we joined forces with Alex and Christi, an outstanding pair we faced in the 9.0 Sectionals final. While we began discussing who else to recruit and where our home courts should be, one big question loomed: Who would captain the team? I was reluctant to volunteer at first, but decided to give it a shot, never imagining that my first time captaining would be so successful! I owe that success to all of the amazing players on our team for their commitment and support, especially Alex and Tina, who I asked to co-captain and who were instrumental in helping me run the team.
Shortly after finalizing the roster, we began having practices twice a week with the logistics coordinated by our resident spreadsheet expert Tina. We frequently had enough players for two courts, allowing us to rotate partners/opponents, and we also arranged matchups against 9.5 and 10.0 pairs to simulate the high level of play we expected to face in the postseason.
Our hard work paid off with stellar results. We remained undefeated en route to winning Sectionals, sweeping almost every match. However, that’s not to say that we didn’t overcome some challenges along the way. Christi demonstrated incredible resilience after playing four matches on the first day of Sectionals and recovering in time to win two more the next day to help us and her 10.0 team advance to Nationals. Kaz also made things look easy, even after jamming his thumb badly during the warmup for the final, forcing him to serve and volley nearly every point. Ron and Daniela’s opponents didn’t realize they had a third adversary across the net, as Daniela showed a lot of grit and won key matches at Sectionals despite being in her first trimester.
We faced further challenges on the road to Nationals including a long wait between Sectionals in April and Nationals in November. We paused our practices since most of us were busy with other leagues in the spring and summer but resumed about a month before Nationals.
Unfortunately, not all of us could make the trip to Arizona. Daniela gave birth to a baby girl just two weeks before the tournament, but there’s no doubt that she would have been ready to compete if Nationals had been a few weeks later. Despite his best efforts to recover, Danny was also sidelined with a hamstring injury, a blow to both our team and the NorCal Mixed 18 & Over 7.0 team.
We still had a fantastic start at Nationals with three consecutive sweeps, including multiple super tiebreak victories, as well as wins from first-time partners Ron and Jen Fong. This clinched us a spot in the semi-finals, providing some leeway for us to rest players in our last match against New England. Kaz and Tina pulled off an epic comeback for the second time that day to defeat a very strong pair, but we lost tough matches in the other two lines, resulting in our first loss of the year. The loss stung, but more concerningly, Gil rolled his ankle during the match and we didn’t know if he could play the next day. We woke up to more troubling news, as Tina’s calf was in a lot of pain the following morning. Thankfully, Gil’s ankle felt fine, and with some help from the trainer, as well as Alex’s KT tape and a compression sleeve, Tina felt okay to play too.
In the semi-final against Texas, Alex and Christi won quickly to put our team up 1-0. Likely feeling the strain from their long matches the day before, Kaz and Tina lost a close match in a super tiebreak. Gil and I were up a set and had just broken to go up 5-4 in the second when they lost. I served for the match, and Gil crossed on matchpoint, hitting a volley winner to send our team to the finals!
This was my fourth time making it to the finals at Nationals. In all three previous attempts, my team fell short of winning the title, with the most recent being only two weeks earlier when the NorCal 5.0 team, which included me and Christi, lost 1-2 in the final. Christi did one better to bring NorCal a win at 10.0 Nationals the following weekend, and I hoped our 9.0 team could do likewise.
In the finals, we faced Southwest, who had just beaten New England, the only team we had lost to. Once again, Alex and Christi were the first ones off with another dominating win, leaving Christi with a mindblowing 17-0 record at Nationals this year. By this time, the Norcal Mixed 18 & over 7.0 team had won their final and came over to cheer us on, so a large crowd was there to witness Kaz crushing an overhead on the championship point to clinch the National title! Kaz’s reaction was so calm that our teammates briefly questioned whether that truly was matchpoint before rushing to the court to celebrate.
And so apparently, the fourth time's a charm in the National Championship finals for me. This truly was a team effort and everyone on the team contributed to this victory. I was happy that everyone who traveled to Nationals played at least one match there. Beyond the court, there were so many people and events that contributed in sometimes small but important ways: the NorCal Mixed 7.0 team coming over to cheer for our matches throughout the championship, our friends back home following along in real-time on WhatsApp and sending their encouragement, late-night lineup discussions, our competitive due diligence research team, players who drove (or flew) long distances to attend practices, all of our practice partners that weren’t on the team, team gatherings where we learned each other’s unique definitions for words via Codenames, and even Daniela’s newborn daughter wearing our team shirt for each match. It’s hard to describe how amazing and special it feels to finally win a USTA League National Championship or how grateful I am for everyone’s part in helping the team prepare and overcome all the challenges thrown our way throughout the year, on and off the court.