Spinning Tennis Into Gold

Spinning+Tennis+Into+Gold

Maria Ross, Staff Writer

On a chilly morning in March I woke up and began my journey to Mobile, Alabama. It was three in the morning, my dad and I were driving on I-75, and I had yet to know that this would be one of the best weeks of my life.

I was on my way to the National Level 1 team tennis championship. In this event, 256 boys and girls of all age divisions join together to make teams and compete against each other for the iconic gold ball. The gold ball is an actual gold ball given to the winners of National Level One tennis tournaments.

Teams were made up of two girls from each age division (12’s through 18’s). I didn’t know a lot of the players except for a few close friends prior to the tournament. Once there, players were placed together based on rankings into somewhat random groupings. By chance, I got incredible teammates.

I arrived on Friday and was greeted with my closest friends. Sadly, I knew we probably wouldn’t be on the same team. All players were staying at the same hotel which featured a game room and nightly activities. I could immediately tell that regardless of who I was placed with, this was going to be an unforgettable experience spending time with my friends who I hadn’t seen in a while as well as meeting new people.

On Saturday we found out who was on our team and what our assigned team name was. I was part of the Angels. Saturday and Sunday my team and I practiced together and bonded. We ate our meals together, made shirt designs, scoped out the cute boys, and came up with cheesy chants for the Angels. At the hotel, all the players hung out together and got to know each other.

Monday morning I woke up to the sound of the thunder. Even though it was pouring we made our way to the courts. The radar showed a 100% chance of the rain for the rest of the day, so instead of playing, we all hung out and ordered food. My friends and I played jokes on each other and played “What are the Odds,” a kind of truth or dare game. It was fun to be spending time with each other like normal kids instead of high-pressure athletes competing for a coveted prize.

On Wednesday the rain finally stopped and we played our first match. Because of the weather during the previous days, our match would be doubles only. If we split the wins and losses, the 18 and under players would play a deciding ten point tiebreaker,  increasing the pressure substantially. We all went on court at the same time, four courts in a row.

My partner and I won our match quickly as did the “18 and unders” on my team. We all went on to cheer for the rest of the team. I don’t think I have ever screamed louder and been more stressed. Rattling the fences we yelled and cheered and jumped. Finally when we clenched our first match, we all ran onto the court and picked up the little ones in happiness. It was like no other feeling to share such a special memory with a team. IMG_7203

All my junior career I have counted on myself and only myself. Tennis is a very individual sport and is rarely played as a group in a higher level. This team experience though was breath-taking. On our second match, we played singles only. When others played, I would stand and watch. I remember at the end of the say I could barely walk and talk because I had been running from court to court cheering and yelling so loud that I lost my voice.

Our third match-the semifinals was probably my favorite memory. We were playing on the front show courts and everyone was watching. I was caught up in a roller coaster of a match. Even though I was so nervous and tired I rose up to the occasion. With all my teammates cheering for me and a crowd watching, I won my match in the third set tiebreaker. I was so incredibly happy and what made it that much memorable was I had someone to share it with. I was so proud of my team and grateful for their support.

In the end we ended up winning the elusive gold ball. A few rain delays here and there but we accomplished something so magnificent and prestigious. I was blessed to be a part of such a great team but also to have met some of the greatest people I know. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of a team event and to have tried something new. As much as I like tennis for its individuality, I think the team aspect of any sport makes victory that much more significant. It was an overwhelming experience like no other and I can honestly say I will never forget it.

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