The USTA League program is largest program the organization has, with more than 300 thousand players nationwide. Here in Southern California, more than 15 thousand players hit the courts year-round, but these players aren’t just competing in one league. They’re joining multiple teams, out of multiple areas, for multiple league seasons. It’s the same story throughout the U.S.
Players are drawn to the league’s competitive environment. They hone their skills with real match experiences. They register for teams alongside friends and family. They create a social environment with team cookouts, pot-lucks and happy hours. Tennis is more than just a hobby. It’s become the source of a second family.
The Crickets, a 3.5 men’s team out of the Inland Empire, exemplifies the popularity of the USTA League program.
“All Crickets across all our Cricket teams are drama free,” Co-Captain Kelvin Tay said of the group. “We are first and foremost laid back and all about the fun of playing tennis.”
While the Crickets often enjoy fun together off the court, it’s the fun during the competitive league season that is the glue keeping the team together.
“One of the best things about our team is that even when players were not scheduled to play, they showed up at the courts to cheer the team on,” says Crickets Co-Captain Fred Stevens. “At the end of the match, our players would walk on the court and shake the hands of the opposing team as well as our team. It was true sportsmanship.”
The Crickets draft a team for almost every league season. They are strong competitors and are often seen at the Sectional Championships as representatives of the Inland Empire League Area. However, they rarely win the title. That is- until this year.
The Crickets drafted a winning team for the SCTA Doubles league season. They beat out a veteran team out of Orange County in the Championship match.
“The competition at Sectionals was fierce,” Cricket Max Veluz said. “We saw a few teams we had played against in previous tournaments, and it looked like they were in their top form. The team we beat for the Championship was the same team we lost to in the spring tournament.”
This winning Crickets team was put together through the close and fine recruiting of Stevens and Tay, the two co-captains. They searched high and low for players who are up for the competition, but who also fit into the team’s social sphere on and off the court.
Veluz is one of those players.
“I don’t think any of us knew each other before we formed the team. Most of us were fairly new to USTA,” Veluz said. “Our team seems to have this unspoken rule of ‘getting the job done at all costs’ and a spoken rule of ‘if you don’t win, you don’t get any beer after the match.’”
No matter what, each Cricket is heavily supported and encouraged. This family atmosphere is something all team members found vital to their success at the SCTA Doubles Championships in February of this year. During their matches, the majority of the team members were present to show their loud vocal support for their fellow teammates. This contributed to the development of a winning culture for the team as Sectionals began to inch closer day by day.
Michael Macias is a regular on the Crickets.
“We always go out to support each other, even the higher-level players of the group,” Macias said. “It is team tennis and we should all be loud after points to cheer on our fellow crickets.”
At the time of Sectionals, the Crickets were fully prepared to take on the fierce competition that awaited them. Throughout the competition, there were several close-call matches that went to three sets.
“We made it out of our bracket and, behold, our wish came true,” Stevens said. “We got to play the team that knocked us out in the Spring Sectionals.”
And that team wasn’t going down without a fight. After one win and one loss, the championship match was tied at 1-1, and all eyes were on Stevens and doubles partner Vince Brown. They had given a dominant performance throughout the Championship, but the final match was in no way easy. After two back and fourth sets against a crafty Orange County squad, they were able to claim victory in dramatic fashion.
“I can’t imagine the pressure on all the players on the court as both teams eagerly watched the conclusion of this epic match,” teammate Michael Macias said. “The score was 10-9 as Vince prepared to serve out the match. Then came the serve that shocked the world.”
Vince served up a second-serve ace to give the Crickets their first Sectional Championship.
“Sectionals was just as it should have been,” Stevens said. “Any team could have walked away as winners that day, but it came down to the team that wanted it the most. That was the Crickets.”
The team celebrated their big win with a barbeque and drinks at Stevens’ newly renovated home. Their sites are already set on the 2015 Spring Championship. Although winning the was a remarkable achievement for the Crickets, the true reward was the friendships and bonds made between each member. At the end of the day, this is exactly what everyone here at the USTA strives for- both a competitive and social experience that will last each of our members a lifetime.