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Team Tequila Finishes Second at 40 & Over 3.5 National Championships

tequila750Jeff Stewart is a regular guy from Cherry Hill, N.J. He’s a dad, a former youth baseball coach, and a hard worker. He also loves tennis, and will spent the next few days telling all about it.

Stewart learned tennis as a kid, but hadn’t played in 21 years until finally picking it back up and learning about USTA Leagues when his kids reached high school. Four years later and now a team captain, Stewart and his 3.5 men’s team competed for a USTA League Tennis National Championship in Indian Wells, Calif. The team battled all weekend, finishing in second place overall.

USTA League is the country’s largest recreational tennis league, helping more than 800,000 participants nationwide get on the court and compete in a team-based setting.

Stewart provided daily recaps on his trip to Indian Wells, writing about the competition, the facility, and the overall experience of competing for a national title.  Additional results, features and more from the weekend can be found here.

Sunday, October 13

Hey tennis fans, I’m just sitting in lax airport waiting for my flight home, reflecting on our time here in California. I could title my final entry in this blog:  Tiebreaker Heartbreaker or Coulda Woulda Shoulda, but there’s no point in second guessing.

20131013_105746_resizedLet’s see, where should I begin?

The USTA put on a great players party for everyone last night, but we had to take it easy because we had semi’s first thing in the morning. In a great show of gamesmanship we gave our extra drink tickets to two great friends of one of our players who came all the way from Jersey to support the team (thanks Shaun and Dwayne). Then one of the guys started a rumor that they were our No. 1 and No. 2 singles’ players. Those guys partied like rock stars and had people wondering how they were going to play the next day. Too funny.

Team came smoking and out on took out Northern California in the semis, 4-1, and achieved a spot in the finals to face a very strong team from Texas. They took control of four of five matches very quickly. I began consoling myself, thinking about the fact that we had a great run but would have to settle for second. Then things started change, and this team of east coasters dug in and refused to give up.

Our No. 1-singles player, who dropped the first set and was suffering from cramping and back spasms to the point that I considered stopping the match, jumped out to a 4-0 second set lead. Our No. 2-doubles team had lost the first set but was up a break in the second. Then No. 3 doubles, who had lost the first set 6-0 and was down 4-1 in the second, managed to come back and take control.  Our first doubles had won in straights to remain undefeated through nationals, Great job, John and Jim, you guys are studs.

20131012_073557_resizedWe lost second singles to the Texas captain, who played a great match. Unfortunately at times we couldn’t overcome the hardest opponent of all: fatigue. Joe was beaten in two sets, but played his heart out and there’s no doubt in my mind he would have won if his body didn’t quit on him. (Thanks for everything, Joe, we would never have gotten here without you.)

Anyway, at that point we are down, 2-1, with our third doubles position fighting back and taking the second set. They were in the zone and went into a match tiebreaker. I will never forget the sight of my co-captain Dennis Leggoe, going up to slam dunk the winning overhead.

It was 2-2, and all coming down to our final doubles court. These two guys were banged up and feeling the effects the desert sun, but still manage to close out the second set and take it to a match tiebreaker with the title on the line.

Needless to say, I was freaking out. We were so close to as we jump out to a 4-1 lead. Unfortunately some bad breaks and great play from the Texas team had us down 9-6, but we are still not done. Mike and Luis battled back to 9-8 but no matter how hard they fought, a win was not to be. We lost, 10-8.

The bottom line is we came as close to winning a national championship as you can without winning it. As they used to say in the intro to the wide world of sports, we tasted the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” but came out smiling happy to have had the chance compete at this level.

IMG950520_resizedSome of us on our team might be feeling as if we could have done more, but they were all instrumental in giving us the chance to be here. As a team captain, I can only thank them all for this wonderful roller coaster of emotions that we embarked upon months ago. When I was trying to recruit players for this team, one of the first things I would ask was “How would you like to go California for Nationals”? We turned that question into a reality.

Thank you team, thank you Middle States, and thank you USTA.

Jeff Stewart

Team Tequila is:

Dennis Leggoe- co captain
Domenic Christopher
Seramill Acierto
Froilan Sunga
Petr Matejka
Luis Pastoriza
John B Oeser
Jim Mogan
Michael Peter Sarubbi
Rodrick M. Lawlor
Rodney Godwin
Adrian Munteanu
Adam Carl Wooding
Jeff Stewart

Saturday, October 12

20131012_135601_resizedQue pasa, amigos. Team Tequila was victorious today, and now ride on into the semi-finals tomorrow as the No. 1 seed. Couldn’t be happier with the play of our team. We’ve got that aggressive Jersey style of play that wins tennis matches.

Also out here with us representing Middle States are the Killer Bees women’s team from Monmouth County, N.J.

IMG955841_resized

Mercer Killer Bee’s at National Championships

They needed a win today to get out of their flight and into the semis, also.Of course it all came down to a third-set match tiebreaker. These girls played their hearts out for every point but just missed advancing. Tennis can be very cruel when playing at this level. One bad bounce can be the difference between advancing or going home, but we are all winners just for getting this far and having a chance to compete for a national title.

Ok, time to get ready for the players’ party tonight ,should be a blast but we are going to have to take it easy. Big day tomorrow.

Go Team Tequila!

Friday, October 11

Day three here in Indian Wells meant the first day of matches. Had another sleepless night over thinking everything and anything, but just got to remember to relax and enjoy the experience. Lucky to have this chance so I just want to get everything right.

We started our day with a 7:30 a.m. match at the Indian Wells Tennis Center. Still can’t believe we’re playing courts that the best players in the world have been on. Team came out smoking and served notice that we are team to beat. We took all five courts without dropping a set. Second matches of the day we’re back at La Quinta resort. Results are in, and we took all five courts again.

So far in tournament we’ve only given up one set, but it is all going to come down to Saturday’s match to get out of our flight and into the semis. Was hoping to be able to relax and give the guys some rest tomorrow, but our opponents are 2-0 also. Oh well, no sleep tonight.

20131011_161417_resized

Jeff and Tom Gorman

While I’ve been here I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Tom Gorman a bit. What a nice guy. For those of you who don’t know, he was top-10 player in the world, a winning Davis Cup captain, and one of the founders of the La Quinta resort where we are staying. I’m working him for a job here so I never have to leave. Don’t tell my wife.

Well, that’s another day in the life of Team Tequila. I think drinks are in order for tonight. More from Indian Wells tomorrow.

Go Team Tequila!

Thursday, October 10

Hello all, it’s day two of Team Tequila’s assault on Indian Wells, and I just can’t stop smiling.

20131010_073047_resizedTeam got in a good practice this morning at the La Quinta, were most of us are staying, and some of the matches are set to be played. Most of us were up around 4 a.m., walking around in the dark and ready to go, but we had to wait till 8 a.m. to hit. Courts seem to play very slow out here, but should only work in our favor, as well as the 7:30 start time, since most of us are operating on Eastern Time anyway.

Second on the list today was Indian Wells Tennis Center, where the BNP Paribas Tournament is held and the rest of our matches will be played. Very impressive place with a ton of new construction going on. Always watched the tournament on TV and dreamed of going there, now I’m going to be playing there.

20131010_140513_resizedNext on our to-do was the palm springs aerial tram. Goes up to an 8,500-foot elevation with a 40-degree difference in temperature from the bottom up to the top with about two inches of snow.

I’ll include some of the pictures I took, but they barely do this place justice.

That’s all for now, I’ll check in after our matches tomorrow, hopefully with good news.

Go Team Tequila!

Wednesday, October 9

Hey guys, greetings from Team Tequila. Seven out of 10 team members are in the air, en route to California. We are flying into LA and driving the 110 miles to Indian Wells.

35 Men NJD 40sCan’t put into words the excitement and anticipation I’m feeling, but I will try. So many are things going through my head right now. It’s a bit different being the captain instead of a player, as I was last time I made it to nationals in 2010.  There’s a fine line to walk between keeping all of our players happy and just winning matches, so hopefully we can do both. We are lucky enough to have a bunch of great guys on this team that are on a mission to bring back a national title while still staying loose and enjoying a wonderful place to vacation.

Thankfully I have a great co-captain: my friend, Dennis Leggoe. Besides being a fine player, he scouts the other teams thoroughly for us and gives me reports that make our team decisions so much easier. I don’t know what the outcome of this trip will be, but I do know it will be a great time, and something we will all remember the rest of our lives.

That’s all for now. Go Team Tequila!

2 Comments on Team Tequila Finishes Second at 40 & Over 3.5 National Championships

  1. Jeff, I am the captain of the Middle States 4.0 40+ that also took second this weekend at Indian Wells. Re-reading your blog, it could have been written about our team and our experience as well, right down to the minute details about Tom Gorman and the tram ride. We even gave our drink tickets to the 24 year old son of one of our guys and tried to convince people he was on our team. It was truly an amazing experience, and it’s good to see NJ and Middle States doing well in nationals.

  2. Sarah Downey // November 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm // Reply

    Loved your story and so fun to meet you all. The Killer B’s (as mercer matchmakers) went on to take 3rd in Arizona with the young 18+ group! Hopefully we can all get together in Mercer County for some fun tennis and banner hanging!

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