Saints and Rams Vie for Gold Balls in USTA Boys Spring Team Championships; Tornados and Firecrackers Meet for Girls Title
©Colette Lewis 2014--
National team coaches Matias Marin and Glenn Allsop didn't know their players coming into the inaugural USTA Spring Team Championships, but it didn't take either long to figure out they had the right mix for a run at a gold ball.
Marin's Saints and Allsop's Rams both picked up 7-5 victories in Wednesday afternoon's semifinals, after completing quarterfinal victories earlier that had been postponed from Tuesday due to rain.
The Saints won three doubles matches, got three wins from the top three spots in their lineup and picked up a win at No. 1 12s to move past the Vikings and into Thursday morning's gold ball match.
The Saints did it without Justin Lee, who suffered a back injury in the quarterfinals and was unable to compete in singles at No. 2 16s, giving Sam Turchetta of the Vikings a win without striking a ball.
|Matias Marcin, coach of the Saints|
The Saints' Spencer Furman at No. 1 18s and Luke Gamble at No. 2 18s contributed straight set wins, with Furman beating Dennis Wang 6-2, 6-2, and Gamble clinching the match with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Joseph Haig. Gianni Ross downed Daniel Gealer at No. 1 16s 6-2, 6-2, but it was Michael Karr's result at No. 1 12s that Marin found most gratifying.
"He had lost all five matches so far, but today he won his first match," said Marin, who coaches at the Trent Tucker Academy, a USTA Regional Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "I was really happy for him to win a match. The 18s guys did a great job, took care of business, and Gianni at line 1 16s has been winning every single match and is a great competitor."
"The good thing about this team is that this morning, the 14s play amazing, and we struggled a little bit in the 16s and 12s, and this afternoon, the 14s didn't do a good job, but it was the 18s and 12s that stepped up," continued Marin. "We balance it out, and that's part of being a good team."
Marin said he knew after the first match that the Saints could challenge for the title once they got over their nerves on Monday, and the team proved resilient in handling the breezy conditions in the afternoon.
"We're solid throughout the lineup, and I think we've been playing better and better with every match," Marin said. "They were nervous in their first match and the conditions today were a little bit tricky. For some of them, it's their first National Level 1, and they've already earned a ball. Hopefully they can go one step further tomorrow."
|Nicholas Garcia is congratulated after clinching match for Rams|
The Saints' opponents will be the Rams, who also got an important victory from one of their 12s, as Nicholas Garcia, at No. 2, won 7-6(5), 7-5 over Alex Lee to clinch the win and avoid the number of sets tiebreaker that would have come into play had he lost.
Like the Saints, the Rams picked up three points in the doubles, but it was the bottom of their lineup that provided the chance for a gold ball.
In addition to Garcia, a left-hander with a one-handed backhand, the Rams got a point from Zane Khan, who beat Niroop Vallabhaneni 6-3, 6-3 at No. 1 12s and Britton Johnston, who took his match with Larry Qu at No. 2 14s in a match tiebreaker 5-7, 6-4, 10-5. The match tiebreaker was implemented due to Tuesday's rain and the heavy schedule of matches that had to be played on Wednesday. Alexander Keyser beat Sean Mullins 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 16s to contribute to the Rams' cause.
Allsop, who coaches at two clubs in the Minneapolis area, said it didn't take him long to realize he had a special group of players to work with.
"Believe it or not, it was probably within the first 20 minutes they were on the court," Allsop said. "All the guys were very respectful from the very get-go. It was fantastic. There was a connection from the very beginning."
Allsop said he hasn't known in advance which positions would deliver his points.
"It's been very unpredictable," Allsop said. "We toyed with the idea of mixing around 18s and 16s and some of the 14s and 16s (in doubles, where team positions are up to the coaches), but it was tough to tell, because we had mixed results up until now. Especially after playing two matches today, it was tough to decide where and how. We just went with what we did and it came out good."
As for scouting the Saints, Allsop concedes there's little point to that.
"That's the beautiful part of this event," Allsop said. "When it's team events, and the emotion gets high, anything can happen. Rankings don't really mean anything, especially when it comes down to the last match, the last minute, pressure's really high. Who knows? Doubles lineups can get a little tricky, because they're somewhat flexible, but as far as the singles, you just support, support. You never know where their heart can take them."
|John Meincke, coach of the Firecrackers|
The girls final will feature the Firecrackers, who defeated the Lynx 8-4 in semifinals, and the Tornados, who rode success in match tiebreakers to a 7-5 win over the Lightning, in a semifinal match that ended after 9:45 pm Wednesday evening.
The Firecrackers, coached by John Meincke, won their first match based on games won, 110-105, after the team match score was tied at 6-6 and the sets score was also tied, at 11-11. They won their quarterfinal match earlier Wednesday by beating the Red Hawks 12-9 in sets after that match ended in a 6-6 tie, but against the Lynx the doubles provided the boost they needed to avoid yet another 6-6 tiebreaker.
"The girls have improved each and every match; they've loosened up a bit," said Meincke, who teaches at the Country Club of Little Rock, in Arkansas. "We had struggled in the doubles all week. We had only won one doubles match in each of the first two matches, but today we won three of the four."
The Firecrackers got a point from each age division against the Lynx. Caroline Turner beat Lauren Goodman 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1 18s and Samantha Martinelli defeated Isabella Lorenzini at No. 1 16s 4-6, 6-2, 10-8. They swept the 14s, with Ann Li beating Samantha Gillis 6-7(3), 6-2, 10-5 at No. 1 and Lea Ma winning at 2 over Valerie Ho 6-3, 7-5. Peyton Stearns, who Meincke says has a goal of a gold ball before her 13th birthday, defeated Maryam Ahmad 6-1, 6-3 at No. 2 12s.
"It's just been so much fun," said Meincke. "The girls have been awesome. We've come together as a team, which was my main goal. Hopefully they'll stay friends for a long, long time."
The Tornados and Lightning had split the four doubles points, and after the Lightning's Ryan Peus had beaten Savannah Slaysman 6-4, 6-3 at 16s No. 1 and the Tornados' Rebecca Weissman had downed Christi Woodson 6-1, 6-3 at 18s No. 2, there was still nothing to separate the two teams.
After Meg Kowalski beat Taylor Lau 6-4, 6-1 at 14s No. 1, the Tornados edged ahead 4-3, but it was Jessie Aney at No. 1 18s who really ignited the Tornados with a gritty 6-0, 3-6, 12-10 win over Andie Daniell. Aney's match tiebreaker win was followed by one from Rachel Arbitman at No. 2 12s, who beat Jamilah Snells 2-6, 6-3 10-8, and then the clincher, from Margaret White, who defeated Shaughnessey Galvin 3-6, 6-1, 10-7.
|Zach Buenger, coach of the Tornados|
"Once I got to know them, their camaraderie, I didn't know if it was gold or silver, but I knew we were going to contend for something," said Buenger, who coaches at Kansas City United. "The girls fight to the very last. You can see it in the scores. We had four ten-point tiebreakers, and we won three of them. They grind every single point. We had one girl diving for a ball to bring it in, Jessie Aney. She was the first of the (tiebreak) wins, and she just brought the rest of the team together."
The boys final is scheduled to begin at 8 am, with the girls final scheduled to begin an hour later. For complete draws and schedule, see the TennisLink site.