Repeating as regional champions was just not good enough for a local senior tennis team that made a run all the way to the national finals.
The Northwest Ohio 7.0 Senior Mixed Doubles Team from the Shadow Valley Club in Maumee finished runner-up at the United States Tennis Association national tournament last month.
The 10-member team of players age 50 and over won league and regional titles and finished with a 14-1 record. For the second straight season, the Shadow Valley team won a five-state Midwest tournament to qualify for the national event in Orlando, Fla.
Team captain Sharon Sheline, a Maumee resident, said she believes it was the highest finish for a local senior team at the USTA nationals.
"That was pretty cool. I think it is highly unusual, especially for senior players, to repeat like that," Sheline said. "All kinds of things can happen in the interim. We certainly did pretty doggone well."
Teammate Mark Everhart, who is from Sylvania Township, said it's very difficult getting through the Midwest regional tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"To be able to repeat is a tremendous thing," Everhart said. "And then we got to the national final. We lost the deciding match in a third set tie-breaker. We took them to the limit. It was a magical run. It was great to be a part of it. I'm still pinching myself."
The other team members are Nancy Kramer (from Maumee); Mary Kay Whitner (Perrysburg); Connie Rush (Sylvania); Rich Spriggle (Temperance); Kevin DeWitt (Holland); Sam Radel (Gibsonburg); Peggie Waters (Elmore), and Keith Roberts (Toledo).
Sheline said the core of the team has been together for two years.
"We represented northwest Ohio and the Midwest down there," Sheline said. "It just shows how strong tennis is around here."
The Shadow Valley team first won the Northwest Ohio Tennis Association with a 6-0 record. The team then competed against squads from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana at the regional tournament.
"Our team went undefeated in five matches," Everhart said. "We went 4-0 to get out of our bracket and we defeated a team from Indiana in the final."
At the Eastern USTA Nationals last month, the local team competed against seven other qualifiers. Shadow Valley went 3-0 in its bracket, beating teams from Tennessee, Florida, and New York.
The team then squared off with the winner of the other bracket, a team from Puerto Rico.
"We fell just a couple of points short and we lost 1-2," Everhart said. "It could not have been closer. It was something. They were singing and dancing and chanting."
Sheline said the Puerto Ricans had "a very strong representation."
"They play outdoors all year," she said. "That was a big adjustment for us. We weren't used to the sun in our faces."
Everhart also said Roberts was injured and could not play in the tournament.
"If we had him on the team, we'd be national champs," Everhart said. "He's our best athlete."
Sheline concurred, saying Roberts could have made the difference.
"What an athlete. Keith is Mr. Special," she said.
She said that although the athletes are all more than 50 years old, the matches are spirited at the highest levels.
"It is extremely competitive," Everhart agreed. "People on the court are very focused. Plus we were representing all of northwest Ohio."
Sheline said that while USTA members are amateurs, they are willing to make the commitment needed to compete at the national level.
"It costs money and time doing this," she said. "We put in the energy and the blood, sweat, and tears together. Sometimes there is heartache. Sometimes we're fortunate."
The team often receives nothing more than plaques or T-shirts at most events. It won a crystal bowl for the second-place finish at the USTA national event.
One of Sheline's main duties as captain is to determine which players will compete together on each doubles team.
In 7.0 mixed doubles, a team has 10 to 12 players. Each player has a USTA rating from 3.0 up to 8.0. The ratings for each doubles pairing can not add up to more than 7.0. The Shadow Valley players each have ratings of 3.5.
In matches against other clubs, each has three doubles teams (with one male and one female) that compete against each other.
"I try not to be a dictator. We share so that everyone plays during the regular season," Sheline said. "But our team is greater than the sum of its parts. We were there to win. We did what we needed to get where we wanted to be."
Everhart said the team will again compete in the Midwest regional in Fort Wayne in March, adding that USTA officials informed the team that it placed itself among the top 1 percent in its division just by qualifying for the national event.
"We hope to do at least as well and get back there," Everhart said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:firstname.lastname@example.org