July 26, 2011 — The University of Virginia's 8.0 Mixed Doubles tennis team represented Charlottesville July 23-24 in the U.S. Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Mixed Doubles Sectional Championships at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Their efforts represent a first for the team and an accomplishment for Charlottesville, since no team at that level from the area has made it to the competition in the past six years.
"This year this team is the most competitive we've had," said captain Lynn Davis, assistant director of information systems, client services, in the Office of Development and Public Affairs. Although the team came in fourth out of four teams from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, their road to the competition is remarkable in itself.
The co-ed Charlottesville team, which competes under the U.Va. banner, first came together in 2007 by the suggestion of Tommye Arnold, associate comptroller for accounting services. "Initially it was all U.Va., but eventually it got to where we had to start adding non-U.Va. people to have enough to start a team and to move up to other levels," said Mike Cline, team member and finance director in Facilities Management. The four original members, including Cline and Davis, who have stuck with the team reached out to University employees, Charlottesville residents and even a student to join their ranks.
"It's a great dynamic," said Ioana Smith, a U.Va. medical student who moved to Charlottesville three years ago. Smith has been playing tennis since the age of 9 and enjoys competing with her husband and teammate in the No. 1 slot.
Working hard in makeshift practice space while maintaining practice schedules in other leagues, the team worked their way up the levels and increased their rankings over time. They qualified for five district tournaments, once at the 7.0 level in the spring of 2008, twice at the 7.5 level in the summer of 2009 and fall of 2010, and twice at the 8.0 level in the spring of 2010 and spring of 2011.
"This collection of people likes to win; we're very competitive," Davis said. The other U.Va.-affiliated team members are Steve Kimata, University comptroller, and Donna Cox of Student Financial Services.
To qualify for sectionals, they first had to win districts in a league of 12 mostly official club teams. These teams hold tryouts for members and rotate substitute players from a pool of athletes, normally sporting 10 to 12 players per team. By contrast, the U.Va. team recruits people through word of mouth and often has to field all their players in every match. "Not being affiliated with a club, we don't have ready access to known players; we have to go out and find them," Cline said. (The non-U.Va. members are Chris Hays, Tracy Lynch, Josh Smith, Jennie Patteson and Tara Day.)
The team reached their goal in the district tournament in June with a third-set, 10-point tiebreaker, winning 10-5. "All of us have recognized how far we've come since 2007," Davis said.
At sectionals the team went up against some tough odds. First of all, the age of the team differed from that of their competition. As Davis noted, most of the teams at sectionals were largely populated by athletes in their 20s, whereas half the U.Va. team are 50 and older. Second, the Saturday matches took place in 100-degree temperatures with a heat index of 114, and the team drew a 1 p.m. time slot. "Our victory was walking off the court and not having to go to the emergency room," Davis joked.
In the end, the team just missed going 2-1 by six points. The strong competition has helped them identify skills they will work on to improve as a team. "All of the teams were very good," Davis said in an email. "The skill that we noticed the most was that both players tended to be very good net players – something we need to work on."
Members maintain a positive attitude about their record moving forward. "We were pleased even to be there – that was a big accomplishment," Davis said. They continue to compete in other leagues and look forward to coming together again in the third week of August for the fall season.