In July, more than 200 kids and 27 teams from around the state gathered at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD to participate in the Junior Team Tennis (JTT) State/District Championships. Thirteen teams then moved on to play in the Sectional tournament at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, VA in August.
And now two Maryland teams will compete for the JTT National title in Surprise, Arizona from October 21-24 for 14's and 28-31 for 18's.
Team Danger (formerly known as Team White), of St. Mary’s County Tennis Association, will play in the 18 and Under Intermediate division and the Tweeners of Montgomery County will be competing in the 14 and Under Advanced division.
Team Danger’s Dream Season
A national title was not always on the forefront for Team Danger.
“Before the Districts, our coaches expectations were mild,” said coach and co-captain Derek Sabedra. “We just wanted to win some matches and be competitive.”
Yet as the season continued, the team that is comprised of three separate St. Mary’s schools (two of which are rivals) bonded and became what Sabedra calls “one magnificent team.”
The previous two years have yielded zero head to head victories and Team Danger were up against tough opponents at States. The team fought through Talbot County, Howard County, and Montgomery County to claim the State Championship.
Afterwards, the team received a proclamation from the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners and was honored on centre court at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC.
“It was an incredible experience,” proclaimed Sabedra, who is also the head coach of St. Mary’s College (Md.) Tennis.
Team Danger had little time to soak in the celebrations as the Sectional tournament coincided with the start date for high school fall sports.
The stress and headache would prove to be no match for the determined Team Danger as they defeated the Orange Team (West Virginia), the South East Tennis Learning Center (District of Columbia), and Worldgate Aces (Virginia) to face Advantage (West Virginia) in the finals.
Team Danger took home the Sectionals title with a tight 31-26 win to earn a berth to Nationals.
With this victory came accolades from State Delegate John Bohanan, House of Representatives Steny Hoyer, and a proclamation from the Governor’s Office of Martin O’Malley.
“The JTT is awesome as you watch each player develop into a better person,” said Sabedra. “All of the players, parents, coaches have formed a tight St. Mary’s County family throughout the JTT season and our run in the play-offs.”
And with many supporters behind them, Team Danger will look to take their season of “mild expectations” into Surprise, Arizona for the National title.
Friendship and Success
Holly Welch, coach and captain of the Tweeners, knew exactly who to turn to in making a successful JTT team. Her children, Nicole, 14, and Jack, 11, have been playing JTT for four years and began recruiting their friends to join the team.
“They came up with an amazing group this season,” said Welch. “The players are all friends and genuinely like each other and enjoy the time playing together.”
With this chemistry, the Tweeners won Montgomery County by a wide margin and finished second to Green Spring Racquet Club’s team Aggressors at Districts, losing by only two games.
Welch used all of her players and allowed different players to participate in the singles matches to give everyone a chance to contribute. The second place finish motivated the kids to perform even better and they turned in a great effort at Sectionals.
The Tweeners swept through the competition and won a whopping 120 games to only 24 lost, beating out Salisbury Moreno (Virginia), The Nets II (Virginia), and Aggressors (Maryland) to earn a trip to Nationals.
And now the team looks forwards to an exciting trip to Surprise, Arizona and will continue to have fun with each other along the way.
“Being a part of JTT has provided [the kids] with a great opportunity to get all the benefits of a team sport,” said Welch. “Our players support their teammates throughout the matches, practice together, celebrate together and basically enjoy the whole process.”
“Everyone that saw the team at Districts and Sectionals commented on how well we got along and how much fun it looked like we were having,” added Welch.
It would seem that friendship and success go hand in hand with the Tweeners.
This article was written for USTA Maryland and can be viewed here.