Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trip to nationals is one to remember for 4.0 women

USTA tennis in southern California

Proudly displaying the USTA League 2011 National Championship banner at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in southern California during the Oct. 14-16 tournament is the Sun Valley Women’s 4.0 team. Holding the banner, at left, is Joyce Algiers and, at right, is Sue Hamilton. Standing, from left, are coach Chris Gripkey, Chiyo Parten, co-captain Gayle Stevenson, Lisa Cortese, co-captain Alma Mills, Andrea Faas, Joanne Wetherell and Diane Bradford.

Usually, a team from bigger cities and tennis clubs in Colorado makes the trip to the U.S. Tennis Association League 4.0 Senior National Championships in southern California.

But this year the sectional champion from the six-state area (Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nevada) was a women's team from tiny Ketchum, Idaho—comprised of nine women coached by Chris Gripkey, Copper Ranch (Hailey) tennis professional.

Gripkey said, "To my knowledge, no women's 4.0 senior tennis team from Idaho, much less Sun Valley, has made its way to nationals, and to have done it in such thrilling fashion was magical."

The team featured Joyce Algiers, Sue Hamilton, Chiyo Parten, co-captains Gayle Stevenson and Alma Mills, Lisa Cortese, Andrea Faas, Joanne Wetherell and Diane Bradford.

They competed in senior national (ages 50-and-over) doubles matches Oct. 14-16 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Palm Springs area.

Gripkey, third-year coach of the Ketchum/Sun Valley 4.0 women's team, "We didn't know what to expect. We could have gone to nationals and gotten blown out. But we didn't, and that was very exciting for us. It was a great experience, very competitive and very fun.

"Though Ketchum didn't win nationals, the team's season was a huge success. We almost beat Florida at nationals, and Florida came in fourth in the 16-team tournament.

"Sooner rather than later, and against all conventional thinking, these Ketchum tennis players may one day bring back home the national title, and not one of them should or will be surprised."

U.S. Tennis Association League (USTA League) is the country's largest recreational tennis league, helping more than 325,000 players nationwide get on the court, have a good time and step up their game.

The league is organized as competitive team match play. Teams are made up of a minimum of five to eight players depending on division. The Ketchum team's 4.0 season started in June, building up to the state tournament during August in Pocatello.

First the Ketchum women won the local division, defeating a crafty, seasoned group from Elkhorn's Harker Center.

Next, they captured the state title by outscoring four other teams, including two strong ones from Boise.

The state competition was so close, at one point Alma Mills and Lisa Cortese were down double match-point in the third set to an undefeated Boise opponent. Had they lost either of the match points held against them, their season, as well as their teams, would have been lost. Instead, they pulled out an improbable victory and earned the right to play in the sectional tournament, where they would battle the best teams from the Intermountain.

The competition was fierce at the six-state sectionals in Boise, and for a while it appeared the tennis gods were against the Ketchum team.

One of the Ketchum players became violently sick from food poisoning, another suffered all night long from a food allergy attack, a third needed to leave the tournament early for family reasons, a fourth hurt her foot which compromised her mobility, and a fifth threw out her back.

Things looked bleak.

The developments left the team wondering what could possibly happen next. The answer came in the form of another miraculous, straight-out-of Hollywood victory.

With a ticket to nationals on the line, it was Joyce Algiers and Diane Bradford who found themselves triple match-point down in a third set tiebreaker to a tough Nevada duo. Through sheer determination and a little good fortune, they pulled out the match.

One of 16 elite teams at nationals, Ketchum was placed in a round robin group with Southern California, Northern California and Florida, the winner advancing to the semifinals. All the teams were very good. To the surprise of some, Ketchum was competitive.

Alma Mills and Lisa Cortese won their only two matches in thrilling three-set tiebreakers and with those victories went undefeated in both sectionals and nationals, which is an awesome accomplishment.

Meanwhile, Joanne Wetherell and Sue Hamilton beat Florida and were only two points away from defeating Southern California in straight sets. It was Wetherell and Hamilton's first and only loss of the season. The rest of the team was all involved in hotly contested matches in which one or two points made the difference.

The winning team was Mid-Atlantic from Middleburg, Va. In second place was New England from Beverly, Mass. In third place among 4.0 Senior Women was Missouri Valley from Tulsa, Okla. And in fourth place was Florida from Clearwater, Fla.

"It was a wonderful, wild ride," said Gripkey.

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