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Nationals newbies enjoying big stage


By Liz McCollum

It’s not unusual to see schools like defending Tennis On Campus national champion UC Berkeley, Georgia and Wisconsin return to Nationals year after year. Even a small school can have a big presence, like the Western Washington Vikings, who hold the distinction of being the only club to have played in all 17 National Championships.

Fifty-nine of the 64 teams in the field have been to the country’s highest profile event for club tennis at least once in their school’s history, leaving a handful teams – like Texas Christian (TCU), Dayton, Lamar and Carnegie Mellon – to experience it all for the first time.

The newness of the sights and sounds at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. has excited the members of these “rookie” teams.

Welcome to the club.

“Everyone here is so nice,” said Katy McKeough, a senior with the Carnegie Mellon Tartans. “We were a little worried because we are a new team and we probably aren’t the best team here, but everyone has been super nice.”

All four of the teams are here despite not winning their respective Tennis On Campus Section Championships. Carnegie Mellon, a private university in Pittsburgh, placed third at the USTA Middle States Sectionals, while Fort Worth-based TCU placed fourth in the USTA Texas Sectionals. Dayton, from Dayton, Ohio and Lamar, from Beaumont, Texas, were the USTA Midwest and Texas Clubs of the Year, respectively.

The Tartans are a success story in just their second year as an organized club tennis team, with 2014 being the first time they put together enough members to compete at Sectionals. While going out to have fun, the team fared better than expected. Their success motivated them to get more serious about the program this year, hosting tryouts and becoming an official athletic club team with the university. Their plan worked, and a trip down to the eastern seaboard to North Carolina was their reward.

TCU, meanwhile, tempered themselves in unseasonable 25-degree weather in Texas, beating fellow Nationals finalist Sam Houston State in the first round. They went on to beat the University of Houston in the quarterfinals to secure their bid. Sophomore Tanner Love of the Horned Frogs expressed: “This is an awesome place to play tennis. There is so much time and care put into the event. I had no idea it was going to be so professional."

Just as important as team performance, the Tennis on Campus program encourages a family atmosphere, a high level of sportsmanship and commitment to community service. To celebrate off-the-court accomplishments, each section awards a Club of the Year distinction to the college or university tennis team that has achieved a level of sustained excellence, while also demonstrating a commitment to giving back to their local community – and Dayton and Lamar fit the bill in many ways.

Dayton “has grown leaps and bounds in the last four years,” according to the team’s captain, Shelby Schaffner, with the club hosting its inaugural “Fall Brawl” tournament in October. The Flyers welcomed 20 teams from all around USTA Midwest and beyond the section to their campus to test themselves against high-quality competition. In appreciation, their section awarded them a golden ticket to Cary.

“I think being able to run that tournament successfully was huge,” said Schaffner. “We’ve applied for [Club of the Year] for years and years, so be able to finally see [Nationals] is amazing.”

Similarly, Lamar’s Cardinals were recognized as Club of the Year for their commitment to service. The team had work sessions at Lamar’s Community Garden, in addition to working with local high school teams and volunteering at local tournaments. Team captain Zachary Defrancis was also named the USTA Texas Tennis on Campus Leader of the Year.

“We are all grateful that our section gives a bid to the club of the year because it gives a hardworking school that usually would not have the chance to qualify for Nationals the chance to go and represent their school and community,” said Defrancis.

Whatever road these new teams have taken to Nationals, they are all happy to be here to experience the competition and camaraderie.

“The atmosphere is festive,” said Carnegie Mellon junior Chris Park.  “I know this is a tennis tournament, but it feels like a big party.”

Team Rosters:

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
Allie Del Giorno (Gr.), Rebecca Kern (Fr.), Karthik Lakshmanan (Gr.), Katy McKeough (Sr.), Chris Park (Jr.), Abhinand Sukumar (So.), Shiv Wadwani (So.)

The University of Dayton (Dayton, Ohio)
Evan Beale (So.), Madison Bourbon (So.), Mason Dipalma (Jr.), Nathan Hyzdu (Jr.), Ryan Jamieson (Fr.), Robert Kirchner (So.), Aidan Koch (Fr.), Hannah Lindesmith (Jr.), Shelby Schaffner (Sr.), Javier Somohano (Fr.)

Lamar University (Beaumont, Texas)
Drew Anderson (Fr.), Christopher Bishop (Fr.), Kelli Creel (So.), Zachary Defrancis (Sr.), Robert Ehrlich (Jr.), Tyler Hansford (Jr.), Trina Schreck (So.), Jacob Tate (Fr.)

Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, Texas)
Evan Cliff (Sr.), Catherine Dooley (Sr.), Mary Elizabeth Harmon (So.), Lainey Korsan (So.), Tanner Love (So.), Scott Martinson (Jr.), Jonathan Pham (Sr.), Gabriela Ruiz-Roehrs (Fr.), Mary Strobel (So.)