For the first time in the club’s history, Pitt’s Club Tennis team qualified for the National Championship in Cary, N.C., this upcoming April.
In the USTA Tennis on Campus Middle States Sectional Championships, Pitt was able to defeat the University of Pennsylvania in the quarterfinals, Penn State’s second team in the semifinals and Penn State’s first team in the finals, earning a spot at nationals.
“We were able to win the big points when they mattered,” said Brian Rubin, vice president of Pitt Club Tennis. “We were down 2-4 to Penn State in the final set of the championship, and, after playing hard through vigorous points, we were able to win four straight games in a row to win the whole tournament.”
Last year, they played well in sectionals, but only made it to the quarterfinals. They succumbed to Villanova, who went on to win the tournament.
“We were very disappointed by those results,” Rubin said, “because we were so close to making it to nationals for the first time in our club’s history.”
But the team had extra help this year with the addition of coach Craig Perry. Perry began playing tennis when he was 13 and has been coaching for 30 years. When he offered his assistance to the team, they welcomed him.
“They are a great group of kids,” Perry said. “I run them hard at practice, but they know how to keep it serious and fun.”
Both Rubin and Jim Donovan, the president of Pitt Club Tennis, believed that his presence was a key factor in their success. Perry was quick to dispel such notions.
“Coaching is overrated,” he said.
In addition to the coaching, Pitt Club Tennis increased its efforts. The team has been practicing for two hours, three nights a week, going through drills and implementing different strategies. Perry shows up for two of the three practices per week to give his input on the team’s progress and offer organization.
“I think we had a few players that helped our team that were not there last year,” said team member Rithika Reddy. “[They] gave us that edge. Especially for the players who were on the team last year, we definitely improved and we became stronger players. We just were not gonna accept anything other than qualifying this year, especially after getting so close last year.”
Most of the team contributed to their victory this year, as the combined effort of the veterans and new talent meshed well.
“This is my fourth year on the team now, and I can say there has definitely been a steady progression of success. Last year and this year, we had a lot more people — and very good players — tryout,” said Donovan. “I think our greatest strength as a team, though, would be how close we are. It helps in competitions to have a lot of support from teammates, and we certainly do that.”
Perry agrees. “They are a close-knit team. They support each other so well.”
Now, Pitt Club Tennis is preparing for its long-awaited chance at nationals. The team plans to maintain the routine that’s worked so far, but it does want to improve on doubles performance.
“Doubles is extremely important in our league, and with the necessary training and practicing, I believe they will be an important factor when we go to nationals in the spring,” Rubin said.
Perry agrees that the routines should stay the same until a few weeks before nationals.
“They will practice outside closer to April because nationals will be held outside,” the coach said. “Switching from indoor to outdoor might be hard, but I know they can do it.”
But practice and good technique are not the only factors Pitt Club Tennis believe will help win nationals.
“We [have] something I like to call ‘the thirst,’” Reddy said. “’The thirst’ to win is basically what fueled us to do so well at sectionals. We just wanted the win so bad we refused to accept any other result from that. If anything it just made us more determined to do it this year.”