AU club tennis team to play in national tournament for the first time
The team will compete in the USTA Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational in South Carolina October 28-30
The AU club tennis team team will compete in a national tournament for the first time when they travel to Hilton Head, South Carolina to participate in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational at the end of this month.
The team regularly competes in local invitational tournaments featuring schools from nearby Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, according at AU Club tennis President Julia Shirley.
“This tournament is huge, with schools from all over the country,” Shirley said. “There’s forty-eight schools participating and AU has never participated in anything that big.”
USTA, the governing body of tennis in the United States, developed the Tennis On Campus program in 2000 to give college students the opportunity to build leadership skills, network with peers and compete without the rigors of a varsity schedule. The tournaments consist of co-ed teams nationwide and the season culminates with annual national championships, featuring regional tournament winners and runners-up. The Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational, originally scheduled for October 7-9 but moved due to Hurricane Matthew, is the first event of the On Campus season.
Since the AU club tennis team formed in 2008 after the University dropped varsity tennis after the 2005-2006 season, the team has traditionally competed in three local invitational tournaments per semester in addition to weekly practices and occasional weekend matches against local college club teams.
Shirley said the process of participating in the USTA Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational began two summers ago when she and the e-board began researching possible national tournaments the team could compete in. After they found the Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational, the team began to fund raise for the tournament.
“We couldn’t make the decision really quick [to participate], two summers ago,” Shirley said. “We [thought] let’s give it a year and build up to it and see if it works out.”
After raising sufficient funds, Shirley and the e-board worked with the AU Club Sports Office to rent two cars to transport the five male and five female players making the ten hour trip to Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
For Shirley and the rest of the team, the Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational is an opportunity to test themselves against strong opposition. Many public state schools with drop-outs from their collegiate varsity teams will be competing, according to Shirley. While she said she is looking forward to how the team matches up against the strong competition, the results of the weekend are only a partial element of participating in the tournament.
“[If we are grouped with] schools more like AU in terms of the size, we have a higher chance of doing well,” Shirley said. “We’re mainly going for the fun experience and [to] see how the tennis goes.”
The team is bringing the maximum ten players allowed for the tournament to build experience for the younger players and ensure competitiveness against the field. The rescheduling of the tournament to October 28-30 benefited the AU team, Shirley said, as some of the top players who were unable to commit to the tournament previously are now able to travel and compete.
Shirley sees AU’s participation in a large national tournament as an opportunity to grow the brand of AU tennis among schools outside the D.C. area. However, based on the high costs, extensive planning and fundraising associated with competing in the invitational, Shirley said participating such tournaments may be limited to once a year based on AU’s experience in South Carolina.
“It was a pretty expensive tournament, so we would have to continue the fundraising [to participate in the future],” Shirley said. “I think this year is kind of our trial year [to] see how it goes.”
Shirley said the team is excited to see the year’s work come to fruition at the Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational and for the bonding opportunities the team will have on the trip.
“The tournament’s a big deal, we spent a lot of time and energy pulling it all together,” Shirley said. “We’re really excited and really hope it goes well.”