Middle States Beats Odds, Wins Church Cup

churchA lot had to happen on the final day of the 2014 Church Cup Championships for Middle States to be crowned champions.

The celebration that ensued at Merion Cricket Club reflected just that.

Middle States entered the doubles matches trailing, 4-2, to Mid-Atlantic. With three matches to play, the Middle States squad faced the daunting task of needing to win on all three remaining courts.

“I knew how important those matches were, so I asked the guys for their input when it came to the doubles pairings,” said team captain Jason Katzer. “We put our heads together and thought about who was playing their best tennis.”

A New York Times article announcing the first Church Cup, which was played at Merion Cricket Club. The article is dated May 19, 1918.
A New York Times article announcing the first Church Cup, which was played at Merion Cricket Club. The article is dated May 19, 1918.

Court one had the toughest Mid-Atlantic doubles pairing, according to Katzer, with one player being a former college standout, and the other a high-level international player. Middle States counteracted this pairing with its two youngest players, Penn State sophomore Christian Lutschaunig and University of Pennsylvania sophomore Matt Nardella.

Played simultaneously, all three matches carried the same weight of significance. That magnified the fact that the Church Cup had to be won as a team, not on one individual court. Throughout the matches, players would occasionally pause in between points to cheer on their teammates next to them.

“I love this event because of the team aspect,” Katzer said. “You get to spend the weekend playing with friends, but also enjoying the competition.”

Middle States ended up winning the historic Church Cup, pulling out the win in an unlikely, dramatic style.

For a group of guys that have never played together before, the team aspect came naturally.

“Some of the guys, I’ve coached,” Katzer said. “Some of them are friends of a guy I coached. Some I may have played with in the past. The players came from all over, but they were all found through tennis connections.”

The setting for the win was Merion Cricket Club, giving Middle States home-court advantage throughout the weekend.  On Sunday afternoon, family and friends were on hand to celebrate. And while competing inside the team’s home section added sweetness to the win, there was a certain element that made the tournament even more special.

“I think players enjoy the tradition of playing on grass,” Katzer said. “It makes the trip worthwhile. If it were another hard court tournament, it might just seem like another event. But the fact that this is played on grass makes it that much more special.”

Church Cup competition began in 1918 and consisted of teams representing Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The tournament continued in this format until 1932 before taking a 13-year hiatus and reformatting the tournament structure to place USTA Sections against one another. Since 1947, Middle States has competed against New England, Eastern and Mid-Atlantic each year.

For photos from the event, visit Middle States on Facebook.

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