NCAA Div 1 National Champions
If you’ve been following me on Twitter and Facebook then you know that the Virginia Cavaliers men’s tennis team and the Florida Gators Women’s tennis team are the 2017 NCAA Div. 1 National Champions. For the Cavaliers, becoming Back-to-Back-to-Back National Champions (three-peat) puts them in the same conversation as the ’98-’00 Yankees, the ’00-’02 Lakers, and the ’13-’16 UConn Women’s basketball team. For the Gators, this win marks their
7th National Championship, making the Women’s tennis team the most prolific team in Florida Gators history! The closets to the Gators are the Men’s golf and the Women’s gymnastics teams with four championships to their credit. Congratulations.
The NCAA Championships began at regional sites across America as each of the top 16 seeded teams would host the first and second rounds. The Sweet 16, through the Finals, would be held on the campus of the University of Georgia. And in case you are new to College tennis, these are the teams that hosted Regional matches:
Men’s Seeded Teams:
- Wake Forest
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- Texas A&M
Women’s Seeded Teams
- Ohio State
- Texas Tech
- Georgia Tech
- Oklahoma State
- South Carolina
A couple of things jump out at me when I look at this list:
- Do any of these teams look familiar? They should. Many of the biggest Universities in America have not only football and basketball programs, but tennis teams, too!
- Florida isn’t the only place where they play tennis.
- Texas and Oklahoma seem to be the hottest tennis states.
- Lesser known “football” schools like Vanderbilt and Pepperdine have stellar tennis programs.
What is Your College Team Doing?
Watching the NCAA Championship play out over the course of 2 weeks was enjoyable, for me, primarily because of the Season that preceded it. From late January right up to the start of the Championship, players are growing together and developing into a Team. We see this in their interaction on Game Day and on their Instagram posts and Twitter timeline. We watch them struggle to overcome the opposition. We see them encourage each other after a loss. We see them celebrate together after a win. We see them playing practical jokes on each other, clowning in the gym, and being recognized by the student body at basketball games.
And then comes the NCAA National Championship.
A season of struggle all comes down to one, meaningful, tournament. Noticeably different than their professional counterparts, College tennis only has one Major tournament. There are numerous invitationals during the course of the school year, but they are merely exhibitions designed to prepare teams for the NCAA Championship. In fact, there’s an individual tournament for both singles and doubles following the NCAA Championships, but by then the crowds have gone home, moving on to the College World Series, or something.
Tennis Night in America
Here’s the point: tennis as a Team Sport is infinitely more enjoyable than tournaments. When cities like Charlottesville (Virginia) and Nashville (Vanderbilt) and Malibu (Pepperdine) have a team to gather around, the sport takes root in that territory. When the Oklahoma State Men’s tennis team makes the news it brings attention to tennis in Stillwater. When the Texas Tech Women’s tennis team visits the local Children’s Hospital in Lubbock the Red Raiders become a greater part of the Community. When the citizens have a tennis product they can be proud of they begin to display their tennis proudly. Much like the fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team (me) everyone knows where we belong. We are Buckeyes. We say it loud. We say it proud. And if you’ve got a problem with that, we can take it outside!
But seriously, Team Sports inspire a passion not found in individual sports. Which is why professional tennis SHOULD BE a team sport like it is in College. Just imagine what Sundays in the spring would be look like if it was Tennis Night in America; a day for the Community to embrace the local sports franchise, gather at the sports stadium, wear matching jerseys and t-shirts, and cheer in unison for their Home Town team. And when the Championships come around, tickets go on sale for $1,000! Can you see it?
We don’t have it yet, but I’ll keep dreaming it until we do. In the meantime, you can help me by supporting your local University; attend their matches, buy a hat and t-shirt, take pictures with the team and post them on Facebook. Make College tennis a part of your Community and let’s see how far we can take this thing!
Saturday, April 15, would mark the end of Season 15 of youth tennis with All American Team Tennis. And like we do every season, we held a big event that we like to call Championship Saturday. For those of you who are new to AATT, Championship Saturday is our “playoffs”; it’s the tournament at the end of a long season. Kinda like the NCAA Championships, but for little leaguers. It’s where our players, after a lot of trial-and-error, compete to find out who’s #1, in addition to rewarding our players for what they’ve accomplished during the season. Beginning with Season 14, Championship Saturday would also feature a visit from a highly-ranked University Tennis Team. Last season it was the Keiser Seahawks. This season it would be the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls! But more on that later.
During the course of the season, the League (me) kept track of a number of stats: W/L, Serves Held/Broken, and Total Points. We use these numbers to determine things like Point Differential and Turnovers and award the players who performed the best over the course of the 10-week season. Then on Championship Saturday, the winners of the tournament are our National Champions! We save the tournament until the end the Season because too many tournaments can cause “Tournament Burnout”. One big blowout is what most people are happiest with. And isn’t that why we play sports: to have a good time?
Season 15 Award Winners
One of our season-ending awards is the Pennant. This award
is given to the #1 team over the course of the 6-week Regular season. We awarded the top 6 players with the best W/L numbers in Doubles with this award. So for Season 15, the Pennant Winners were the Knights with a record of 4-2, and the top 6 players were Amaris, Emmanuel, Michael, Esteban, Alethea, and Ava (pictured right). Now, you’re probably wondering why the players are wearing different jerseys. It’s because All American Team Tennis is all about the “Team”. And to drive home that point, each player played on a different team each week of the season. It’s a way of building Community among tennis players. And isn’t that what sports are all about: Community?
Next up would be the MVP. The MVP is the #1 player on the #1 team. This season our MVP was Ava. Now, this is where all of the stats come in as Ava would lead the League in Doubles wins, Buckeye Leafs, Point Differential, and Turnovers.
- Doubles wins: 7 – 3 more than #2
- Singles wins: 4 – 2 behind #1
- Buckeye Leafs: 28 – 3 more than #2
- Point Differential: +47 – Tied for #1
- Turnovers: +9 – 2 more than #2
And her award for being the MVP was a backpack; which is symbolic of how she carried her team on her back. Get it?
Next, we recognized the Sportsmanship Award winners. This is an award where Coach Ken chooses the players who best exemplify the spirit of All American Team Tennis. AATT is about building Community among its players. Creating an atmosphere of camaraderie, teamwork, communication, and making friends. It is built on the pillars of Sportsmanship which are: Fairness, being Gracious, and Respect for others. I watched the players as they interacted with each other and looked for the ones who were kind, considerate, and just plain nice. I look for smiles and high-fives and listen for how the players talk to each other. For Season 15, the players who best exemplified the spirit of the “team” were Esteban, Rubie, and Alethea.
And we’ve saved the best for last: the National Champions! This one is very straight forward: the winners on Championship Saturday are the National Champions (I told you it was simple). Since each team has players from ages 6 to 13, we would play two courts of doubles, one for ages 6-10, and another for ages 11-13 to determine a winner. The total games won would be added together and the team with the higher score wins. On this day, Championship Saturday, the Owls would come out on top by a score of 12-7. Isn’t it ironic that OUR Owls would come out on top on the same day the REAL Owls were in attendance?! Crazy!
The Best Team in Palm Beach County
Now for the really exciting part: the FAU Owls, the Greatest Tennis Players in Palm Beach County came to our tennis courts to inspire the next generation of tennis player! It may not seem like a big deal to many of you but considering tennis tournaments only come here once a year (pitiful), having a Home Town Team is gigantic! The FAU Owls are a Div. 1 tennis team in the Sun Conference. On their schedule are teams like Central Florida, Old Dominion, and the Miami Hurricanes. The Owls would finish the season at 17-6, going 11-1 at Home. Next up for the Owls are the Sun Conference Championships in Tennessee, April 21-23.
The reason why a visit from FAU is such a big deal is because “celebrity matters”; and everyone knows about Florida Atlantic University. Their football stadium hosts the Boca Raton Bowl on ESPN each year. And the school is making headlines not only with their sports teams, but with their academics, too. And as a Div. 1 university, the FAU Owls are verifiably the BEST group of tennis players in Palm Beach County. Yes, Serena Williams lives in Palm Beach Gardens, but let’s be real: she doesn’t play here and she’ll never come to Palm Springs… so who cares. On the other hand, the FAU Owls are the Home Team and play all of their Home games in Boca Raton. It’s true their players come from Florida, Spain, Brazil, and France. But they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, and they’re Local. I can only imagine what would happen if there were a Professional tennis team playing here in Palm Beach County. What would it mean to the fanbase? Maybe THEN tennis could compete with other sports in terms of popularity. I’m being serious!
After putting on a show for the fans, and signing a few autographs, Coach Ken would bring EVERYONE onto the court to play a game called Caterpillar. It’s a volley game, with six players at a time, rotating extra players in and out. You should have felt the energy on the courts. The kids were excited, the parents were cheering, FAU was getting into it, it was the BEST DAY EVER! How many people can say they “played Caterpillar with FAU”? Hmm? It was an experience our players will never forget. And hopefully enough motivation to keep them playing, and watching, tennis… at least until next season.
Field Trips and Championship Saturday happen every season but only the last two have featured a visit from a Special Guest. It takes time to develop that kind of relationship which is why the majority of kids would rather play basketball and soccer than tennis. And why, overall, Americans would rather watch football and baseball than tennis. Tennis tournaments aren’t around long enough to establish themselves withing the Community. On the other hand, College teams like Florida Atlantic and Miami and Ohio State are NEVER leaving. They belong to us. They’re OUR team. Can you feel the difference?
There is a gold mine of tennis talent laying dormant on our College campuses. It’s time we put these players to work promoting the game; visiting schools and Parks departments, hospitals and nursing homes, signing autographs, showing people how much fun this game is to play AND to watch. Becoming a part of the Community is how fans are made. Florida Atlantic University is a part of our Community. The players and coaches live, work, and play right here in South Florida. They are not playing for themselves, but rather for all of us. That kind of give-and-take is why I proudly wear the colors of the FAU Owls. #OwlsUp