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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stingrays Claim Girls Championship; Rams Take Boys Title at USTA National Spring Team Championships

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Mobile, Alabama--

The wind blew, but the rain stayed away as the Stingrays and Rams claimed team titles Wednesday at the USTA National Spring Team Championships, with both finals clinched by the No. 1 singles players in the 18s division.

The Stingrays defeated the Sharks 7-5, with Cameron Corse clinching her match against Priya Niezgoda from 4-1 down in the third set to give her team an unassailable 7-4 lead.

The Stingrays were up 4-2 when the first round of matches were completed, getting wins from Santianna Chrysopoulo and Kayleigh Yun-Thayer in the 12s, the 16s doubles, and Sasha Wood in 14s, while the Sharks took the 18s doubles and got a win from Kiana Graham in 14s.

The Sharks closed the gap with a win by Peyton Pesavento in the 18s, but the 12s and 14s doubles went to the Stingrays to give them six points.

The Sharks needed to win the final three singles matches on court, and they got one, with Ana Elhom defeating Shelly Yaloz 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 at the 16s No. 2 position, while the Sharks' Emilee Duong earned a split in her match with Jasmin Tripathy at the 16s No. 1 position.  Corse put an end to the hopes of the Sharks however, winning the final five games of the match in exceptionally challenging conditions. The 17-year-old from Baltimore somehow managed to hit a perfect lob on match point despite winds gusting over 30 mph to earn a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

Down 4-1, Corse asked her teammates what the score was, and when they told her they needed just one more point, she refocused.

"I just wanted to fight for my team," said Corse, who has played the tournament for all three years of its existence. "I love this tournament, I love team tournaments. I didn't place the last two years, so I really wanted to this year."

Corse, a junior who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, said the Stingrays came together quickly as a team.

"We spent a lot of time together, and we're always cheering each other so much," said Corse, who now has a gold ball to go with her bronze and silver balls. "I think unity was the key to our success."

Stingrays coach James Ragsdale said he had a good feeling about his team even before their first victory, and was impressed with how they were able to handle the conditions in the final.

"It was very tough and you had to play the right tactics," said Ragsdale, who coaches at Ginepri Performance Tennis in Marietta, Georgia. "On the side with the wind with you, you hit the high heavy ball. When the wind was against you, you had to drive through it. So it helped certain styles, and Cameron adjusted to that very well. Once she got behind, she changed her game on both sides, and it paid off."

Sharks coach Andy Pinkus didn't feel the conditions worked against his team, but instead credited the Stingrays for their ability to win big points.

"The big points kind of went their way," said Pinkus, who teaches at the Mobile Tennis Center and was drafted into the coaching ranks when a coach dropped out at the last minute. "They took advantage of them a little better than we did. It was one of those back and forth matches and it just had to go one way or the other. The conditions were tough for both of us. They had to adjust, we had to adjust, but I don't think the wind played a role in their winning or us losing."

The boys final went on at 2 p.m., and it didn't take long for the Rams to race out to a 4-0 lead on their way to an 8-4 win over the Panthers.

The Rams' John Lasanajak earned the first point at the 12s No. 2 position, and the 16s and 18s doubles matches also went to the Rams. Although it was early in the match, Panthers coach Hanno Bartsch felt the Rams' win at 18s doubles, with Parker Wynn and Noah Makarome beating his team of Sean Sculley and Christian Alshon 8-6, was a significant one.

"I think that one hurt us," said Bartsch, a second last-minute substitute coach from Mobile who reached the finals. "We'd won 18s doubles every match except this one, so I think that one made a little bit of a difference. We started off so slow--we were better off at the end, but we were just a little late making that comeback. Their guys are all good singles players and good doubles players and that makes a difference."

Joshua Raab made it 4-0 for the Rams at the 14s No. 1 position, and after Jeffrey Etterbeek got the Panthers on the board with a win at the 12s No. 1 position, Jameson Corsillo made it 5-1 Rams with a win at the 14s No. 2 position.

The Panthers did make a push, with Alshon beating Makarome at the 18s No. 2 position and Nathan Han getting a retirement win at the 16s No. 1 position to make it 5-3.  But the Rams 12s doubles team of Alex Han and Lasanajak quickly got out to a big lead to earn the sixth point, meaning the Panthers had to win the remaining three matches just to earn a tie.  Sculley had earned a split with Wynn, and the Panthers' Daniel Pellerito was up a set at the 16s No. 2 position, and with the 14s doubles match just beginning, the Panthers still had some hope. But that was dashed when Wynn overcame an early third-set break against Sculley to take a 4-2 lead, and served out the match to clinch it for the Rams.

"I've been struggling a little bit on my serve this week," said Wynn, and 18-year-old from Texas who was on the winning team in last year's rain-shortened tournament. "But I'd been in all his service games in the match, and after getting the break right back in the third set I relaxed a little bit on my serve and I started getting some easy points and one thing led to another."

Wynn, who was a finalist in the 18s doubles at Kalamazoo last year, was proud of the way the younger players competed throughout the tournament.

"All around we had kids who were just fighting for every match," said Wynn, who will be playing for Louisville this fall. "Our No. 2 12s, our No. 2 14s, the fight they were putting in every match.  Some guys won matches that you'd think maybe they shouldn't. We just took care of business everywhere we could."

The Panthers got their final point from their 14s doubles team, while the Rams' Britton Johnston closed out the scoring with a three-set win over Pellerito.  Johnston has now won two gold balls at this event; he played in the 14s two years ago for the team that won the championship, coincidentally also the Rams.

With none of their matches any closer than 8-4, Rams coach Tomas Catar was prepared to concede he had an exceptional team.

"They just grew from Sunday's match to today," said Catar, who played at the University of South Alabama in Mobile and now is head tennis professional for the city of Gulf Shores, Alabama. "They played well together. Doubles for us was the weakest link on Sunday, and we worked on it a little bit and yesterday and today we won all of our doubles(actually three of four today). They just learned, they just got better within a week. Just to see them grow in the last few days was fun for me as a coach."

The sportsmanship award winners were  Kiana Graham of the Sharks, from Austin, Texas, and Paul McCallie of the Falcons, from Peachtree Corners, Georgia.

In the girls third place match for the bronze ball, the Firecrackers defeated the Diamondbacks 9-3. Third place in the boys draw went to the Lions 7-5 over the Eagles.

Girls Gold balls:
18s Cameron Corse, Baltimore, Maryland
18s Hada Chang, Trophy Club, Texas
16s Jasmin Tripathy, Lubbock, Texas
16s Shelly Yaloz, New York, New York
14s Sasha Wood, Topsfield, Massachusetts
14s Kayleigh Yun-Thayer, Atlanta, Georgia
12s Santianna Chrysopoulo, San Antonio, Texas
12s Tara Malik, Secaucus, New Jersey

Girls Silver balls:
18s Priya Niezgoda, Austin, Texas
18s Peyton Pesavento, Winston Salem, North Carolina
16s Emilee Duong, Placentia California
16s Ana Elhom, Potomac, Maryland
14s Meghan Coleman, Indianapolis, Indiana
14s Kiana Graham, Austin, Texas
12s Leyden Games, Newport Beach, California
12s Isabela Thornhill, Waveland, Mississippi

Boys Gold balls:
18s Parker Wynn, North Richland Hills, Texas
18s Noah Makarome, Wesley Chapel, Florida
16s Austin Abbrat, Spring, Texas
16s Britton Johnston, Snellville, Georgia
14s Joshua Raab, Woodstock, Georgia
14s Jameson Corsillo, Boca Raton, Florida
12s, Alex Han, Tulsa, Oklahoma
12s John Lasanaiak, Lawrenceville, Georgia

Boys Silver balls:
18s Sean Sculley, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
18s Christian Alshon, Boca Raton, Florida
16s Nathan Han, Tulsa, Oklahoma
16s Daniel Pellerito, Syosset, New York
14s Zachery Lim, Fairfield, California
14s Matthew Robinson, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania
12s Jeffrey Etterbeek, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
12s Elisha Thornton, Palm Beach, Florida

Complete results can be found at the TennisLink site.