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Blog: USTA Florida at the 2011 Jr. Team Tennis National Chps.

October 19, 2011 08:37 AM
Mi Young Lee, a tennis parent from the Gainesville "G-Power" squad, blogs about their experience of preparing for and attending the 2011 USTA Jr. Team Tennis 14 & Under National Championships in Surprise, Ariz., on Oct. 20-23:

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
By Mi Young Lee

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CHAMPIONSHIP DAY

Cockle-doodle-doo! We were greeted at the courts by a sun thinking about rising and a rooster from a nearby backyard. It was chilly again, but the kids quickly warmed up on the courts. The spectators huddled with cups of coffee and whatever extra clothes they could find in the car. The ever-so-efficient USTA officials called the coaches to line up the teams at 7:15 am, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The surprising thing is everyone was already ready to go. This was the final battle of the tournament. The kids were revving their engines, waiting for the checkered flag to let them loose. 

Our final battle was against the advanced team from Hawaii. (In a sign of friendship and spirit of the games, we presented their coach with a Gator lei. Never had the Hawaiian coach been presented with a lei before by a non-islander!) This would determine the winner of our flight. Our own little championship battle for 13th place nationally. Out of 12,615 teams nationally. Not bad. 

The doubles and singles courts went on simultaneously. Hyunsoo Ryan Joo played the boys' singles court for this match. He is known for his strong, steady style of play. He exhibited his skills on the court today as he relentlessly ran his opponent from side to side, angle to angle, shot after shot. His tenacity and concentration were evident throughout this grueling match. Kendal Wilby was our girls' singles player for the day. She is a determined warrior on the court, more focused and more heavy-hitting when she faces controversies and pressure. She was forced to play at a very high level for a very long, contentious match today, and she delivered. Harry Cacciatore and Jared Lee played boys' doubles together for the first time in this tournament. (For each match, we had different line-ups with different combinations, requiring our players to be versatile and flexible enough to play with any other player on the team on a moment's notice.) Their opponents looked semi-professional with extreme angle shots, perfect lobs and penetrating groundstrokes. And yet Jared and Harry encouraged one another through challenging rallies and situations to somehow emerge as the victors.

Emily Louie-Meadors and Lillie Mehan represented our team on the girls' doubles court. One of the Hawaiian girls hit the ball so hard that it was difficult to even track the ball as an observer. We could only flinch. Despite that, Lillie and Emily not only returned her bullets as effective groundstrokes but took them as volleys, never giving up any ground. They didn't give up much ground in points either and claimed victory for their court. Grey Cacciatore and Ellie Wright played mixed doubles on the final court. Ellie was on fire with her sizzling groundstrokes, and Grey added every variation of shot imaginable to the partnership. They fought their way to a third-set tiebreak and never gave up.

Each court sported a mighty battle to the finish. There were no easy matches, no weak competitors. Not even close. The will to win was strong on both sides of the net. No one won or lost for lack of skill, resolve or effort. This was not a match won by individual effort. The match came down purely to team effort. Every player had to bring it on the court today. And it took the mixed doubles team once again to determine the fate of the championship. This time, they delivered those final points necessary to seal the victory! We were victorious over Hawaii.

To place the competitive nature of this tournament in perspective, we had lost to the ultimate 4th place team from Virginia Beach by a mere three games. Talk about tight competition!

At the closing ceremonies, we were doubly surprised to be awarded the prize for Best Team Banner. All our kids filed out onto the stadium floor to receive their awards. Smiles lit their faces as they proudly represented their beloved Florida.

Whatever place we finished at the end, we were already a championship team in our hearts. Every single player tasted the thrill of victory, every single player tasted the bitter agony of defeat, and every single player played every single match. We started off as a team, and we walked out of the tournament as a team. More importantly, we stayed as a family. The defeats made us stronger and more determined. The victories sweetened the memories. This nationals experience will live on in our memories forever.


Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011
By Mi Young Lee

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Life is a Vacation...

Sometimes, when you plan things right, life is a vacation. This week has been a vacation. 

O.K., so the kids are battling 6+ hours in the hot Arizona desert. They are each doing what they love to do. The parents are sitting around baking for 8+ hours in the hot Arizona sun, with hardly any shade in sight. They are each doing what they love to do too. And the kids are doing it on a national level. With seven of their best friends. Life is good.

This morning, the battle was on again at 7:30 am.  Bright and early, the kids got up, ate breakfast, packed their gear and headed out the door by 6:30 am.  (You have to give these kids credit for waking up so early every single day and showing up everywhere on time!)  We were doing battle with the advanced team from Southern California this time.  Our kids had on specially made Gator t-shirts, representing their state proudly. They also had on Gator face tattoos, orange and blue leis, and Gator ribbons for the girls. They looked sharp!

As we have learned from the previous day's battles, each match is a challenge, from top to bottom. This was no exception. The girl's singles court deserves special mention. Emily Louie-Meadors battled against the hardest hitting girl I have ever seen. This girl's serves and forehands rivaled those grown men would envy. Emily somehow took the early lead and barely kept one step ahead of her opponent in the first set to win it. The second set was lost in a close tiebreak. Then Emily had to battle in yet another tiebreak for the match. Although the balls were pounded at her with great ferocity, Emily fought back valiantly and clawed her way to a victory! 

At the end of a long morning of intense battles, we found ourselves tied again, at two courts all. It was up to the mixed doubles team once again. Despite great communication and upbeat moral support given to one another, we lost the match at the end. Sometimes, your opponents are just stronger and outplay you. There is nothing you can do about it except fight as hard as you can, and stay as upbeat and positive as you can. And our kids did just that. What a great fight!

We quickly gulped down our lunches before the 12:00 pm match. This time, our opponents were from Princeton, New Jersey. And this time, it was the boy's singles court that provided the best example of what was happening on all the courts. Grey Cacciatore, one of the twins, faced a very formidable, hard-hitting opponent. By all counts, the victory looked like it belonged to the non-Gator. Grey lost the first set in a close one. Then he battled and battled and kept believing. With his strong cheering section solidly behind him, he went on to win the second set and the third set tiebreaker!!! Unbelievable! We ended up winning four out of the five courts this time. Our hard work was paying off. We were now in the finals of our second flight in the morning. 

Stay tuned for news from our final day on the courts....
 
 
Friday, Oct. 21, 2011
By Mi Young Lee

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Battling in the Heat and the Heat of Battle

The morning was a bit chilly for our 6:45 am appointment with the official team photographer. After a brief warm-up, all the teams congregated for the singing of the National Anthem, sung by two members of our first opposing team from Virginia Beach (Mid-Atlantic States). All our players lined up for our first match and exchanged gifts with their opponents. The battles were about to begin. 

With four courts battling at once, it was hard to keep track of the tight races on each court. Three out of the five courts had tiebreaks to settle either a set or a match. Each player poured out his or her heart on the court, battling for every point, every game. After nearly two hours of heated battle, we were almost dead even. Both sides had secured 2 courts. It was up to the mixed doubles partnership to determine the fate of this first match. After winning the first set and losing the second, now it came down to a single match tiebreak. This is how close the two teams were matched. Although we ended up losing the tiebreak and the match in a heartbreaking fight, all our kids lined up to high-five their teammates for their phenomenal effort. Win or lose, we were going to do it as a team.

Lunch of BBQ selections was served, once again under the massive white tent. The kids wolfed down hamburgers and hot dogs and raced to start their second match of the day by noon. By now, the sun was brutal and merciless. Actually, it was brutal starting at around 7:45 am. Shade was scarce and a hot commodity. The players had no relief. 

Our second match was against the New England States, represented by a team from Connecticut. Some of their players were super tall, some were shorter. It didn't matter the size. They all brought plenty of game. Again, the level of tennis being exhibited on the courts was extremely high.  Again, the battles were tight, the rallies long, and the balls struck with precision and power to all corners of the courts. And again, it was dead even. 

Both sides had secured two courts each in the blazing sun. This time it took longer to even get to this point. The mixed doubles team marched onto the court, nearly 3 hours into the team match. The match was in their hands again. The battle began anew. And battle, they did. The duo battled away, managing to return overheads pounded at them, trying desperately to secure more points for their team. In the end, they lost their match but they gained the admiration and gratitude of their teammates and families for their fight to the finish. There would be more battles to be fought in the morning.

Then it was off to the Surprise Aquatic Center for some well-deserved fun and relaxation! The USTA organized a wonderful player party for the kids with massive spiral water slides, water fountains to stand under, buckets of water falling on delighted heads, a dance-off with a hip DJ, a (temporary) tattoo artist, a candy bar, and dinner, all rolled up into one. Our twin boys led the way on the dance floor once again, bringing down the house. The real competition on the dance floor was the suave dancers from Puerto Rico. We will have to add dance routines to our tennis workouts in the future! The kids relaxed, made new friends, got their tattoos, bonded even more as a team, and went back to the hotel, happy for being part of this tennis family. Sweet dreams!
 
 
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
By Mi Young Lee

Surviving the Trip and Opening Ceremonies

 
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Despite our meticulous planning, the actual trip across the country was still daunting. With 15 people in tow, we faced pat-downs at airport security, nauseating turbulence on the smaller connecting flight, seconds to spare to catch our second flight after we raced across the bowels of the Atlanta airport, then having our precious tennis bags taken away at the gate due to limited overhead baggage space, arriving at our hotel at 1:30 am Eastern time to find a mix-up of rooms, and finally falling asleep at 4:30 am our time. Thank goodness we had an extra day built in before the kids had to face their opponents at their first 7:30 am match.

Our first full day in Surprise, Arizona was absolutely gorgeous. With not a cloud in the sky, the 90 degree desert weather felt very dry to our bodies which were used to more humidity. The kids got a little practice time on the courts. That was a very good thing because the balls were flying everywhere in the beginning while the kids got used to the higher bounces and the dry air. Some homework time was built in, of course.

The Opening Ceremonies felt like a mini version of the opening ceremonies at the Olympics. Each team paraded into the stadium, carrying a Nationals banner and their own team banner, cheered on by families with cameras flashing all around them. Then the USTA officials welcomed them, danced for them, and took their picture while all the kids threw tennis balls into the air simultaneously. What a festive atmosphere for all these youngsters. 

The organizers had a Mexican dinner ready for everyone under large white tents outside. They cranked up the music and waited to see if anyone would be brave enough to come out and actually dance. I thought how fun it would be if our kids had a face-off against their first adversaries on the dance floor. How silly of me to even have such a thought, really. Then I saw our group of kids with matching yellow and black uniforms eventually making their way to the center of the dance floor.
 
I was a little surprised but proud of them for taking the initiative. No one had started dancing yet. Our youngest members, Harry and Grey Cacciatore, were leading the group with some actual dance moves. Then I saw another tight circle of blue and white making their way to the dance floor. Each of these two groups was in a tight ball, not venturing much out of their cocoon of safety, bobbing up and down within their protective walls. They danced side by side, two blobs of human bodies, near each other but not too close. Wait, wasn't that the group from the Mid-Atlantic States, our first opponents for tomorrow's 7:30 am match? By george, yes it was! My dance-off vision was actually happening in reality! 

Then the groups made small gestures toward one another, converging and separating, converging and separating, dancing, and yet not really dancing at the same time. For a brief interlude, the parents joined in, both the groups became one, and then the song ended. It was time to return to the hotel to prepare for the real battle in the morning. Both teams went to their corners with renewed respect for one another. They were the only two teams out there dancing as teams. They knew they would be bringing it to the courts as teams in the morning. What fun! Let the games begin.

 
 
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011
By Mi Young Lee

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Countdown to Nationals...

Team Florida is gearing up and counting down to JTT Nationals at Surprise, Arizona in a matter of a few days. Packing lists are being passed around, excited e-mails are flying back and forth...sometimes in the dead of night, gifts for our opposing teams are being assembled, our team banner has only a few finishing touches left to polish up, and each night, the players (and parents) are having a harder time falling asleep, dreaming of our chances on the big stage....

This group of 8 close friends, known as G-Power (the G standing for Gainesville), has come together over the past year as a young but unified and cohesive group. Ranging from 11 year old twins, a 12 year old, four 13 year olds and one 14-year old, this little group of warriors took on much taller, more experienced players and came out on top at the Junior Team Tennis (JTT) Sectionals Championships in Daytona, Florida in July, 2011 in order to qualify as a team to compete at Nationals. 

Their individual skills are magnified when they come together in this group. Each member is fully supported and encouraged by the entire group. If one member falters, the others are there to catch him. If one member excels, the others are there to cheer her on in unison. They move as a group, they play as a group, and they bond as a group.

For weeks, they have been practicing different combinations of partners for boys' doubles, girls' doubles and mixed doubles. Their coach is So-Mei Louie, a mom volunteer who has spent countless hours preparing this little group for this very opportunity. The logistics alone have been monumental. Airplane tickets for 8 players plus their families, car rentals, hotel accommodations, practice schedules, matching outfits and accessories, creating and completing a painted banner to represent the group at Nationals, obtaining meaningful gifts for each player on each of the opposing teams we are to meet at Nationals, decision after decision has been discussed and decided upon by the group as a group. Now, most of the decision-making stands behind us and we are looking forward to getting on that plane and heading out to Arizona.

Stay tuned....

 
 

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