The Cottonwood Club-Carter/Barber 2.5 Women advanced to the
2023 USTA National League Championships which were held
September 29-October 1 in Tucson, Arizona.
Lori Carter and Ali Barber, Co-captains
Alisons Parsons, Ally Lyle, Carly Hazen, Jamuna Nielson,
Megan Hanrahan, Jamie Tate, Carrie Peterson,
Mary Simao, Karol Liced Sanchez Vanegas, Mikelle Moore
We asked co-captain Lori Carter to share her story with USTA Utah.
When did you begin playing tennis?
As a kid I was a ballet dancer. Tennis wasn't on my radar growing up, though my parents made every effort to get me involved in it. My thoughts centered around toe-shoes and performances. I really started tennis in December of 2021 at the age of 40. When we first joined Cottonwood Country Club (CCC) the head pro, Brendan Bowyer, offered a complimentary private tennis lesson. He was the first pro I ever worked with and from then on, I was hooked. I started regularly attending group tennis workouts, taught by a variety of CCC coaches, and found a community of encouraging players open to new people. Shortly after, I was asked to join a league team. I lost my very first league match in a heartbreaking tie-break (I might still be a little bitter about that one). After my first full season of playing league, I was asked to captain in 2022.
Do you have family members that play?
My mom used to play competitively years ago but had to stop due to injury. She plays pickleball now and kills everyone on the court like she used to on the tennis courts. My mom's tennis team went to Nationals when she was exactly my age (42). She missed moving me into my first college dorm to attend Nationals. She still feels guilty, but it was the right choice.
Describe your experience of advancing to Nationals.
Before the advancing season, I knew we had a strong team. Even though I wanted us to advance to Districts, I didn't want to put pressure on the team. I wasn't sure if they wanted to be competitive or just a fun, social team. Also, we had a few players totally new to League. League matches are stressful enough, and new players didn't need extra pressure to win.
We didn't have a good enough regular season record to advance to Districts, so we competed in the Wildcard Qualifier Tournament, which guarantees a spot in District playoffs. After winning the Wildcard tournament, I surveyed the team to get a feel for how we should approach playoffs. Unanimously, the team voted to focus on winning. Each player understood that lineup assignments were not personal, and each player was placed strategically for a team win. We won Districts and turned our sights toward Sectionals.
Sectionals was so close! We swept Colorado, who was favored to win. The match that determined whether UT or NV would go to Nationals came down to Idaho beating one line against Colorado. When that happened, I told my players, "Please don't cheer. Another team just lost their chance to go to nationals, and they're all here watching. Go tell the other players how well they played." We celebrated later that night at the pool with margaritas and a Sectionals Champion sign! We had just become the first CCC team in Cottonwood Club history to ever make it to the USTA National Championships.
Did you have help along the way?
Our main coach is Mark Dang. He's amazing at pushing us to become better players and giving us great strategy. He makes sure you understand what caused your mistake, so you don't do it again. His lessons are incredible. "Angles ladies, angles!" We actually wore tattoos of his face on our arms at Nationals. Brendan’s face was on the other arm.
When we were bound for Nationals, all of CCC was behind us. Brendan (CCC's head tennis pro) scheduled a meeting with Ali Barber (team co-captain) and me to develop a training regimen and strategy for the team. In addition to our regularly scheduled team lesson with Mark, Jason Newell reworked his schedule during our training month to also give us weekly lessons. Brendan helped organize scrimmages against higher-rated players so we could train against ladies stronger than we normally see during regular matches. Other teams offered for our players to attend their lessons with pros if they had open spots. We really felt like the whole club was behind us during the few weeks we had to train.
At Nationals, we had a huge cheering section consisting of husbands, parents, siblings, and an auntie! Without us even asking, they provided support in the form of warm-ups, water runs, snack duty, morning coffee, chauffeuring, and more encouragement than I can describe. All the husbands bonded like they were a team, and really became our own personal pit-crew. And yes, my mom attended Nationals with me and got to relive some of her tennis memories.
This team is an incredible group of women from a variety of backgrounds with varying strengths and talents. Most have full-time, successful careers, are also mothers, wives, and caretakers. Tennis is their fun time away from the responsibilities of life, but they took the time to take it seriously and develop amazing relationships with each other. The family I have built with my team is the most significant part of my tennis career.
What ‘clicks’ with your team? What challenges did you face?
Our team is multinational. Besides the US, we have ladies from Colombia, Lithuania, and Vietnam. Our backgrounds are so diverse, you'd think that we wouldn't have a lot in common. Tennis strips away what could be a negative and makes them a positive. Karol, our Colombian teammate, was just learning English when I asked her to join our team. Not a single person on the team felt like she didn't belong with us, and each made a great effort help her communicate effectively. Even though a language barrier on the court could be frustrating in the moment, we never felt like it was a detriment for our team. I met Karol when we played against each other in a league match. After realizing that she didn't speak much English, I asked where she was from. I lived in Colombia for a few years while growing up, so it was great for us to reminisce about her home. I know what it's like to be the new person in a new country, so I asked if she would like to join my team.
We also faced challenges with maintaining training for Nationals. We all have careers, kids, and other life responsibilities that were still priorities during the month we were also trying to make tennis a priority. Our husbands and families knew the training schedule was temporary, but it didn't come without its stressors and battles. That being said, I didn't hear a single complaint from any player on our team. Each person showed up to practices, scrimmages, league matches, or serving practice ready and willing to train.
We also had a lot of injuries! Alison Parsons broke her ankle during a singles league match and didn't start playing tennis again until two weeks before Nationals. Carli Hazen broke a bone in her hand during Districts, had to have surgery to repair it, and still hasn't returned to tennis. Mikelle Moore snapped a tendon in her hand on an overhead in Sectionals and had to have a custom brace made so she could still play and train for Nationals.
Lessons learned from tennis
· Relationships and teammates are more important than winning.
· A good support system is a highly underrated part of a successful player and team.
· Always go for it. You never know what can happen with that impossible shot.
· Patience is huge. If you're willing to wait, the opportunity for a win will present itself.
What would you say to other players interested in the game of tennis?
Just do it! Even if you're terrible at first, nobody starts off being an expert at a new skill. My husband started playing tennis this year, and he's had a blast. Finding a good group to attend workouts with, and a fun pro is pretty easy to do around Salt Lake and other cities. You don’t have to play competitively to enjoy tennis, it’s a lifelong sport. Also, people who play racquet sports live longer and are less likely to develop dementia than non-racquet sports players ... just sayin'.