Charleston tennis team serves up competition
They are among the best of the beginner players, which may not sound like much, but it has earned a women's team from the Charleston Tennis Club a trip to California.
This morning, the tennis club's 2.5 women's team - already the U.S. Tennis Association Midwest Section champs - begins competing in Palm Springs for a shot at the national championship.
The trip is the culmination of a season of victories and it's the first time a beginner-ranked team from the tennis club has made it this far in about 10 years, said coach Scott Zent.
The team members range from 23 (Maddie Mayo) to 43 (Noelle Evans). Beth Trethewey juggles tennis with a career and raising four children. Others on the team are Christie Goldman, Allison Ballard, Allison Westerman, Lilah Michael, and Michael's sister-in-law, Andrea Mitias.
Some of the women played when they were kids. Others have played off and on. But all picked up the game in earnest just in the last few years or so.
Truth be told, each says exercise was the first goal, along with the fun that comes from playing a group sport.
Zent, tennis pro at the club, says he won many of the women over through his cardio tennis classes, designed more for the exercise than perfecting the finer points of the game.
"I suckered them into it," he jokes about their playing.
As the women improved, they started competing. And once they got over the nervousness of competing and having other people watch them compete, they found they liked it. A lot.
They say Ballard is their most competitive. But she's not the only one.
"I really hate to lose," said Evans, the elder of the group. She points out that winning requires having your mental game in the right place.
"My internal monologue is exhausting," she said.
Zent said the women became among the best of the beginners for two reasons.
"They're athletic," he said. "And they listen."
Once a tennis player starts competing in matches, he or she is ranked, much like golfers are with handicaps, by experience and proficiency. Tennis players are matched with like-ranked players in tournaments.
In tennis, the rankings actually start at 1.5, a designation for a player just learning how to hit a ball. The numbers go up in five-tenth increments up to 7, for a world-class player. But 2.5 is the lowest playing-level ranking in the USTA.
"It's fun to watch them progress," Zent said. And he's warned his team that once they finish the tournament, they're all likely to move up in the rankings - to either 3.0 or 3.5.
That will bring a new level of challenge, as they'll subsequently be competing against better players as well.
For now, the women are focused on this weekend, where 17 2.5 teams will be competing. They have to win five matches in a combination of singles and doubles games to nail the championship.
They'll don their team colors - black (because it's slimming) with a touch of pink - and give it their best swing.
Getting this far has meant more effort than hitting a ball on a court. It's also come with a large measure of juggling and family support. Most of them are busy moms; several work outside the home as well. Leaving town for weekends to compete - tournaments have taken them to Ohio and Indiana, for example - has put responsibility squarely on the shoulders of other family members.
"Their husbands and families have made a lot of sacrifices for this," Zent said.
Contact writer Monica Orosz at email@example.com or 304-348-4830.