|Left to right: Keyser, Garcia, Loeb, Khan, Cacciatore, Little, Jones, Johnston|
©Colette Lewis 2014--
A chilly but sunny morning was the backdrop for the finals of the USTA's first Spring Team Championships, with the boys title going to the Rams, by virtue of sets won from the Saints, and the girls title going to the Tornados, who beat the Firecrackers 7-5.
The boys title match was close from the start, with the two teams splitting the four doubles points available. The Rams took the No. 1 doubles, with William Little and Robert Loeb beating Spencer Furman and Luke Gamble 8-5, and the No. 4 doubles, with Nicholas Garcia and Zane Khan downing Michael Karr and Benjamin Koch 8-4. The Saints got their two points from Gianni Ross and Justin Lee, who beat Blest Jones and Alexander Keyser at No. 2 doubles 8-5, and Keenan Mayo and Pierce Rollins, who took an 8-4 decision from Henry Cacciatore and Brittton Johnston 8-4.
Once the four doubles matches were complete, the 12s and 14s matches were sent out. Khan's 6-0, 6-0 win over Karr at No. 1 12s briefly gave the Rams the lead, but Mayo beat Cacciatore 6-4, 6-4 at No. 1 14s to pull the Saints even. Garcia at No. 2 12s gave the Rams a 4-3 lead with his 6-4, 6-2 win over Koch and the Rams made it 5-3 when Keyser won at No. 2 16s over Lee. Lee, who had retired from his match in Wednesday's semifinal without playing a point, did manage to play four games against Keyser, but could not finish the first set. The Saints came back however, with Gamble's 6-1, 6-0 win over Jones at No. 2 18s and Rollins 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Johnston at No. 2 14s, making it 5-5.
The two matches left on the court were the No. 1s in 16s and 18s. Little and Furman were only five games into their 18s match, but Rossi and Loeb were much farther along, with Loeb winning the first set 6-4 and the second set tied at 3-3. Rossi had two set points with Loeb serving at 5-6 15-40 in the second set, but Loeb, who had been hitting winners with regularity throughout the match, really stepped up his game. On the first set point, he hit a forehand crosscourt that Ross could barely get a racquet on. Loeb, who turned 16 on Wednesday, saved the second by guessing that Rossi would go down the line on a backhand pass and picking it off for a volley winner. Two more forehand winners later, Loeb had forced a tiebreaker, and while he wasn't quite as dialed in there, he did give the Rams a 6-5 lead when Ross double faulted on Loeb's third match point for a 6-4, 7-6(5) win.
"I was just thinking take one point at a time," said Loeb, who trains at the Smith Stearns Academy in Hilton Head. "Trying to stay in the moment, be really consistent and wait for my opportunity to come forward."
Shortly after Loeb won, Furman took the first set from Little in a tiebreaker, which still gave the Saints hope. With the number of sets won serving as the tiebreaker should the teams finish 6-6, Furman had to win in straight sets to send the match to the next tiebreaker, games won. He trailed 4-1 and got back on serve, but was immediately broken at 4-3 and Little served out the set, which was enough to clinch it for the Rams.
Little said he didn't know he only had to win one set to assure his team the championship, but the support of his teammates, and the desire for a gold ball, kept him focused.
"My whole goal when I was younger was to make National junior tournaments," said Little, who turns 18 on Friday. "The thought of winning a gold ball is kind of mind blowing to me. It's fun to see the process come together like this. A team gold takes a team effort, which is really special, but still to get the gold ball and see the progress, it's still unbelievable."
The stars of the Rams team throughout the tournament were their 12s, who did not lose, in singles or doubles, in their four victories.
"They were awesome," said Loeb. "They were fun, they were great. One of them came clutch for us yesterday and it was awesome being with them."
Looking back to when he was 12, Loeb said he didn't measure up to the standard Khan and Garcia displayed throughout the tournament.
"I wasn't that good, that's for sure," Loeb said. "They are very good."
"In a match like this, there's many variables," Allsop said. "I think team cohesion was part of it, and I also think it was a little bit of luck. We had a default in our favor, even though I was feeling optimistic about how that match might have gone, when it comes down to one set, anything's possible. I don't think you could possibly ask for a better learning experience for these kids. They learn the most when it comes down to the wire, down to the last few minutes. That's when they find out who they are really, in the heat of battle."
Saints coach Matias Marin had nothing but praise for his players.
"We had chances, and we fought hard," Marin said. "That's all I can ask for from these guys--that they compete all the way. We were down and we came back, and I'm very proud of them. Unfortunately we came up one set short, but that's the way it is, and I'm proud of them."
|Bottom, L to R: Slaysman, White, Arbitman|
Top, L to R: Battaglia, LaFrance, Aney, Weissmann, Kowalski
When USTA National Coach Tom Gullickson spoke to the coaches and players prior to the tournament, he said the most important aspect of being a good coach is to have good players. Zach Buenger, coach of the Tornados, agreed that his eight girls deserved all the credit for his team's title run.
"They made it easy," Buenger said. "You have to have a blend of girls who are open to this kind of coaching. I didn't know any of them, and they didn't know me, and you have to have the right kind of personality to accept blind coaching from somebody you just met."
Buenger's team looked as if they were going to lose three of the four doubles points, when Jessie Aney and Savannah Slaysman trailed Caroline Turner and Morgan Coppoc 5-0 at No. 1. The Firecrackers' Lea Ma and Ann Li had already taken an 8-1 decision from Meg Kowalski and Maggie White at No. 3, and Rebecca Weissmann and Madison Battaglia had fallen behind Victoria Yu and Samantha Martinelli at No. 2, eventually losing 8-3. The team of Katie LaFrance and Rachel Arbitman gave the Tornados a point with an 8-2 win over Peyton Stearns and Ava Neyestani, but Aney and Slaysman, who had dropped all three of their previous doubles matches, looked to be heading for their fourth loss.
But Aney and Slaysman reeled off seven straight games until Coppoc finally held for 6-7, only to watch as Slaysman served out the match in the next game.
"My team competed the way they competed from the very first day," said Buenger. "Down 5-0, and all of sudden, we have a little talk, focus them a little bit, and they bring it back to only give up one more game after that. It's just a testament to their competitiveness and the inner fire that they bring to each of their matches."
The two teams traded straight set wins in the four 12s and 14s matches. The Firecrackers' Stearns beat Arbitman 6-2, 6-0 at No. 2 12s, then Kowalski made it 3-3 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Li at No. 1 14s. The Tornados' White closed out Neyestani 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1 12s, and the Firecrackers responded with Ma's 6-3, 6-2 victory over LaFrance at No. 2 14s to make it 4-4.
The Firecrackers took a 5-4 lead with Martinelli's 6-1, 6-1 win over Slaysman at No. 1 16s, and the Tornados countered with a 6-3, 6-4 victory by Battaglia over Coppoc at No. 2 16s. Now 5-5, the Tornados had the luxury of the first two sets in the 18s, meaning that they only needed to win one of the two remaining matches, since they held the number of sets tiebreaker. At No. 2, Weissmann had a 4-1 lead in the second set over Yu, and Aney a 3-1 lead over Turner at No. 1, and it was Weissman who reached the finish line first, beating Yu 6-3, 6-2 to clinch the win for the Tornados.
"This tournament has honestly been the greatest tournament I've played," said the 16-year-old Weissman, who won all four of her singles matches. "It's been such a great experience and just being a part of the team has made it all the more special. I felt very solid all week, and I just felt playing for the team meant all the more to me. Having that team support was awesome."
The team cheer, which is basically "Nados" faster and louder eight or ten times in succession, was another unique aspect to the event.
"I loved that," said Weissman. "Before every match we did it, and it set the precedent to fight for every single point in every single match. These group of girls have been amazing, I love them all."
Aney, who will be 16 next month, was aware the match was coming down to the last two courts.
"Becca and I were playing on the courts next to each other, and we both knew that if either of us won in straight sets, we won, since we automatically had the sets tiebreak," said Aney, who also went undefeated in singles during the week. "So we were just cheering for each other, and when she won, I just got so excited. I don't think I lost a game after that. I was pumped up and it was awesome."
Aney said the gold ball was special, and not just because it was her first.
"It was so exciting to win with a team," Aney said. "It was so much better than if I had just won individually. It was a blast."
As for staying in touch with her team in the upcoming months, Aney said that was a given.
"We're planning on extending our group message forever," Aney said. "We'll just keep texting in that. It was one of the best tournaments ever. I'll never forget the friends that I made here."
Firecrackers coach John Meincke agreed that the relationships developed were a major benefit in the new format.
"I hope the USTA does more of this, gets some camaraderie with these players," Meincke said. "A lot of times you go play a tournament, you sit in the hotel, and that's all you do. But getting out here and having these kids be exposed to other kids in different age groups is so, so important. These kids are from all over the country and they became close friends, and hopefully they'll be that way for years to come."
In the bronze ball matches, the Patriots beat the Vikings 11-1 for third place in the boys draw, and the Lightning downed the Lynx 8-4 for third place in the girls draw.
The USTA sportsmanship awards went to Kareena Manji of the Blue Jays and Luke Gamble of the Saints.
For the complete results, see the TennisLink site.
Rams def. Saints 6-6, 11-10
1. William Little & Robert Loeb (Rams) def. Spencer Furman & Luke Gamble (Saints) 8-5
2. Gianni Ross & Justin Lee (Saints) def. Blest Jones & Alexander Keyser (Rams) 8-5
3. Keenan Mayo & Pierce Rollins (Saints) def. Henry Cacciatore & Britton Johnston (Rams) 8-4
4. Zane Khan & Nicholas Garcia (Rams) def. Michael Karr & Benjamin Koch (Saints) 8-4
Order of finish: 3, 2, 4, 1
18 (1). Spencer Furman (Saints) def. William Little (Rams) 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-1
18 (2). Lucas Gamble (Saints) def. Blest Jones (Rams) 6-1, 6-0
16 (1). Robert Loeb (Rams) def. Gianni Ross (Saints) 6-4, 7-6(5)
16 (2). Alexander Keyser (Rams) def. Justin Lee (Saints) 4-0, ret. inj.
14 (1). Keenan Mayo (Saints) def. Henry Cacciatore (Rams) 6-4, 6-4
14 (2). Pierce Rollins (Saints) def. Britton Johnston (Rams) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
12 (1). Zane Khan (Rams) def. Michael Karr (Saints) 6-0, 6-0
12 (2). Nicholas Garcia (Rams) def. Benjamin Koch (Saints) 6-4, 6-2
Order of finish:
12(1), 14(1), 12(2), 16(2), 18(2), 14s(2), 16s(1), 18s(1)
Tornados def. Firecrackers 7-5
1. Jessie Aney & Savannah Slaysman (Tornados) def. Caroline Turner & Morgan Coppoc (Firecrackers) 8-6
2. Victoria Yu & Samantha Martinelli (Firecrackers) def. Rebecca Weissmann & Madison Battaglia (Tornados) 8-3
3. Lea Ma & Ann Li (Firecrackers) def. Meg Kowalski & Maggie White (Tornados) 8-1
4. Katie LaFrance & Rachel Arbitman(Tornados) def. Peyton Stearns & Ava Neyestani (Firecrackers) 8-2
Order of finish: 4, 3, 2, 1
18 (1). Jessie Aney (Tornados) def. Caroline Turner(Firecrackers) 7-5, 6-4
18 (2). Rebecca Weissmann (Tornados) def. Victoria Yu (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-2
16 (1). Samantha Martinelli (Firecrackers) def. Savannah Slaysman (Tornados) 6-1, 6-1
16 (2). Madison Battaglia (Tornados) def. Morgan Coppoc (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-4
14 (1). Meg Kowalski (Tornados) def. Ann Li (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-3
14 (2). Lea Ma (Firecrackers) def. Katie LaFrance (Tornados) 6-3, 6-2
12 (1). Maggie White (Tornados) def. Ava Neyestani (Firecrackers) 6-3, 6-1
12 (2). Peyton Stearns (Firecrackers) def. Rachel Arbitman (Tornados) 6-2, 6-0
Order of finish:
12(2), 14(1), 12(1), 14(2), 16(1), 16(2), 18(2), 18(1)