As some of the best in women's tennis gear up for the Fed Cup Final in San Diego this weekend, six junior players from the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, NY are already champions.
The team won the USTA Jr. Team Tennis 18 & Under (18U) Advanced National Championships, Oct. 31, beating out 14 other teams from across the country in Surprise, AZ.
If you hadn't heard, USTA Jr. Team Tennis is a tennis league for children ages 6–18 that provides youth with all of the health and social benefits of tennis in a coed, fun and competitive team environment. This year, USTA Jr. Team Tennis had over 80,000 participants across the U.S.
The Eastern team, which was coached by Gus Alcayaga, defeated a team from Austin, TX in the Championship match and a team from San Diego, CA, in the semifinals. The roster featured Ariana Rodriguez, Olivia Boccardi, Richard Del Nunzio, Stefan Ilic, Vihar Shah and Gabrielle Sullivan. Boccardi and Shah also won the 2010 Jr. Team Tennis 18U Sportsmanship Awards at the Championships.
I asked Alcayaga about the team’s experience winning the championships and what he thought led his team to victory.
How do you feel about your team winning the National Jr. Team Tennis 18 and Under Championships?
"I'm very grateful to be surrounded by these amazing young athletes! I'm very fortunate to see them grow as individuals and come together as a team in this year long event."
"Winning isn't everything but it is special when it presents itself—the smiles, the moments and the impact that it has on these players makes it a lifetime experience."
"JTT helps grow the game and enhance any tennis program. Thank you USTA for providing junior tennis players such a wonderful event."
"I would like to thank some important people that make this happen: Bob Ingersole—Director of Tennis, Thomas GIlliland—Junior Program Director, Barbara Chin—Chair of Junior Development, Dan Mansmann, Lauren Leo and the rest of the professional staff at the West Side Tennis Club. Without their continued support, this wouldn’t be possible."
What do you think led the team to victory?
"Last year's experience made quite an impression on our team. They witnessed first-hand Texas take it all, and felt they could do the same. We finished in fifth place, but the inspiration was in full effect.
The team made up their minds on our way back to New York—this was ours to win in Surprise, Arizona. They gave each other support and believed in the team: "WIN OR LOSE WE'RE LEAVING IT ALL ON THE COURT!"
They're a fun bunch to be around but step on the court and they mean business. The word "team" means more than the definition; we live it: from our QuickStart program through our High Performance Program. We’re one team."
How do you feel about two of your players winning the Sportsmanship Awards?
"Both Olivia and Vihar always express themselves with great conduct on and off the court. They believe in showing respect to the sport, opponents, officials and playing fair at all times. We make it a rule in our Tournament Training Program that sportsmanship is more important than winning."
"To see both Vihar and Olivia get these awards shows that you’re a winner just by showing character."