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National champs! Well, sort of. At least, that’s the spin for these local tennis players

By on March 31, 2019 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments
Brian Gundersen dips to return a volley.

Story and photos

by Susan Weber

I’m guessing here but I’d say if you are reading this it is because you like to hear about local life, and people you may know or want to know. 

You like to hear their stories and adventures and see their pictures. You like to celebrate their joys, their ups and downs, perhaps their moments in the limelight. 

This is a story that probably would go unpublished because it has a hitch in it. It is a story that ends in celebration and at the same time frustration. 

This is story of winning that has not been told and I think it needs to be told. After all, how often does Wenatchee produce a national sports team champion?

 “What?” You say… A national champion? 

After all a champion means the best of the best. And adding “national” to that means the best in the nation. 

There is a bit of a hitch in the bragging rights however. Their title is admittedly a little shaky and I’ll have to explain that, but… their accomplishment is not in doubt.

Our champions — and they are champions — are a team of men who play tennis. They are a little late in life, perhaps, to find themselves national championship finalists. You can’t even make the team if you are younger than 65 so, some have called this the Jurassic League. 

John Raymond serves.

This particular team has several players who are considerably older than the age cut off. Two of the men are 76 and many others are in their 70s. 

They play team doubles and they play at a skill level designated 3.5 within the United States Tennis Association ranking system (essentially a moderate club player). Each doubles team in their category cannot exceed a combined ranking of 7.0. This means two men with a 3.5 ranking, or, alternatively, one person ranked 4 and the other ranked 3 will make up the team. You can do the math. 

Most of the team have been enjoying tennis for years, are retired and play quite a lot. This speaks to tennis as being a great lifetime sport. 

Most play at the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club but the team also has three players from the Yakima area, Don Judy, Bob Cox and Chris Clark. Those from the Wenatchee area are Rich Lynn, John Raymond, Keith Koch, Brian Wengreen, Brian Gundersen, Lance Lorraine and Dave Weber. 

The format, design and regulations are all coordinated by the USTA. Wenatchee has many men’s and women’s teams every year for the past 30 or more years playing USTA Team Tennis. 

So how did this bunch of old guys actually get to the rarified national level? 

First, teams must win their local division. That means defeating teams from places like Yakima, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. The best team then goes to Sectionals, which covers the Pacific Northwest comprised of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska and is one of 17 National Sections. The team who survives that competition is then eligible for the USTA National Invitational Tournament to compete against the winners from all over the U.S. 

Because all the players are ranked by ability, they are all of approximately the same skill level so matches are tight. There are a lot of tie breakers, making for intense competition. 

To provide some perspective in what it takes to make it to the championship round understand that our team draws players from the relatively small population of north central Washington, while the Southern California team pool consists of men from all the counties in Southern California. 

Consider, also, how many teams nationwide were eliminated on the way to Phoenix and how many good teams just missed out. 

Now what about that illustrious but uncertain title of National Co-Champion? 

If this sounds a bit like I’m hedging, I have to admit I am. After two days of competition in Phoenix during February where the weather is hot and dry and ideal for tennis, the Wenatchee team made it to the semifinals. 

Four teams from the entire U.S. were left to determine who among them would be THE champion. At this point in the tournament each team had the same chance to win. 

The final round was to be played on Sunday sending a single team home in first place with the others placing second, third and fourth. 

But dry, sunny Phoenix turned into wet, soggy Phoenix and tennis is a sport you cannot play in the rain unless you want to risk slipping and sudden death, and I don’t mean the kind that determines the winner… well it could I suppose. 

After hours of waiting, hopefully for the rain to stop, it didn’t and the tournament was determined to be finished. 

But who is the winner? Since they didn’t get to play the other teams it seems all should be declared co-champions. Certainly, the team came home with a great finish, an even greater opportunity and defeated only by the weather. 

It is probably reasonable to ask if there is actually any precedent for calling them Co-Champions or Co-Finalists? 

Actually, yes there is. The other team category that played in the Great Phoenix Rainout, the 9.0 Men’s Doubles, had played off the semifinals when play was canceled due to rain and the final two teams were named Co-Champions. 

The teams competing for the Men’s 7.0 Championship all felt a degree of frustration but on the other hand coming home as a National Co-Champion is pretty special. Congratulations guys!

Susan Weber, a retired Wenatchee physician, is the naturally unbiased wife of Team Wenatchee’s David Weber.

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