That is why the seven players and coach Debbie Hazlett took a tough defeat in stride last Wednesday when the Delaware Nightmare squad pulled off an improbable comeback to win the 18 Advanced Division and earn a spot in JTT Nationals.
Needing to get through a set against Pittsburgh without losing a game and then win a tiebreaker, Delaware did exactly that in stunning fashion. But Allegheny Mountain’s team had been there before and completed impressive comebacks of their own to advance to nationals back in 2009 and 2010.
A few players have changed, but every summer for the past four years, the group has made the long trek from Pittsburgh to Mercer County Tennis Facility in New Jersey. According to the players, it’s a trip that brings the team together.
Peter Hazlett, for example, is one of the constants on the team that advanced to Nationals from the 14 Advanced Division in 2009. He said he enjoys everything about the trip each year, including swimming, team dinners and hanging out at the team hotel, in addition to the tennis.
His mother normally plays a managerial role with the team but took over as coach at the Section Championships with the Polar Bears’ regular coach out in California. Hazlett brought energy and enthusiasm throughout the day.
“My ultimate goal would be for all of these players to one day become team captains,” said Hazlett. “You can’t have a great event like this without all of the volunteers and team captains.” added Hazlett.
“A few years ago, it was just a random collection of people playing together, but now we really feel like a close-knit, friendly group,” said Megan Adamo.
Two keys that have helped this group succeed have been the additions of standout doubles player Mitchell Kreider and the unselfishness of the young Bella Patrone, playing in a higher division to allow the Polar Bears to field a full team. Hazlett praised Patrone’s courage along with her play on the court.
Other members that are constant standouts on the team include Christopher Grubbs, David Mewkalo, and Nicole Cyterski. Many individuals who have a spot on the team have aspirations of playing tennis in college and extending their competitive careers.
The Polar Bears did not come away with the ultimate prize this year, but the group of players have come to epitomize what Jr. Team Tennis is all about: skill development, team bonding, sportsmanship and fun. The Polar Bears have done it all, as another memorable trip from Pittsburgh to New Jersey is complete.