Local USTA teams advance to nationals once again

Two Columbia area USTA Tennis League teams will soon be vying for national titles.

Each team won its respective sectional by a slim margin.

After splitting its first two matches, captain Debbie MacDonald's 3.0 senior women's team captured the Mid-Atlantic Sectional title, 7-6, 6-4, over captain Cynthia Smith-Seidel's team, which is also from Howard County.

It came down to total games won for the 2.5 mixed doubles team captained by Kat Savoy. Virginia Beach was the only other team in the 2.5 sectional, played in July in Fredericksburg, Va. The teams played twice.

"I knew it would come down to the last court playing (David Gong and Kelly Mahoney) and what their score was," Savoy said. "It was a nail biter. When it was over, we burst into tears."

In league tennis, the 3.0 senior women and the 2.5 mixed only play doubles — three per match.

The Mac attack

When she turned 50, Debbie MacDonald gave up playing soccer and decided to try tennis instead. She began taking lessons.

Her teaching pro suggested that she start a tennis team. MacDonald remembers the exact words, "You should be a captain because there's nothing to it."

"That's the biggest lie in the world," she said.

After playing on another senior (50+) team, MacDonald and Sam Macuci decided to start their own team - the Double Macs. They were "pretty successful" their first year, she said, but have really gelled this year.

Going 10-0 in the Columbia USTA League, Double Mac earned a spot in the district tournament. Smith-Seidel's team, which was 6-4 in league play, received a wild card entry and upset Double Mac in the finals on a tie break to win the district title.

Double Mac received a wild card entry for the sectional where it met Smith-Seidel's team in the finals again.

"The final match was me and my partner Patty Konecke. It came down to us," MacDonald said. "The final set was 7-6 — that was tense — then 6-4."

"I didn't know and I really don't like to know," that I have to win, Konecke said.

MacDonald intentionally keeps her team small. There are just 11 players.

"I like to have a team with a pretty tight roster. My philosophy is everybody should get to play a lot," MacDonald said. "Also, I try to develop several partnerships that can be successful."

Camaraderie is one distinct advantage Double Mac has.

"We enjoy each other's company. We're a group of women that just likes each other," said Macuci, the team's co-captain. "Everybody encourages you. Your partner doesn't roll her eyes (if you miss a shot). This is probably the only team that I have been on that has been this special."

The 3.0 senior women's national tournament is Oct. 5-7 in Palm Springs, Calif.

"I don't think anyone on our team has been to nationals before. We are so thrilled to be going," MacDonald said.

A family affair

Kat Savoy's 2.5 mixed team is making a repeat appearance at nationals, but with a new cast.

The USTA League has a move up or split up policy for any rostered team that reaches the national championships, Savoy said.

Ace Custodio and Savoy are the only returnees from last year, but the team looked to family to fill its ranks. Ace's brother, Almond, is on the squad and so are Ron and Sherri Capurso and Shannon and John Biggs.

"This year, we're composed of a bunch of couples," Savoy said.

Savoy missed playing in last year's nationals because she hadn't played in enough regular season matches. A pinched nerve has curtailed her tennis during the spring, but she picked up her racket in July and was ready to go.

"No way was I going to let a chance to play at nationals slip away again," she said.

Savoy said most on her team are "pretty new" to tennis.

There were only two 2.5 teams in the local USTA league, and only one other team at sectionals - the Virginia Beach team.

"I like playing at 2.5 because it is more friendly. We're a team of friends," Savoy said.

There are pitfalls to captaining friends, however.

"There's a lot of pressure. Who to play, who to play them with. You have to make tough decisions and they're all my friends and you don't want to offend your friends," Savoy said. "It's pretty stressful."

Howard County-Savoy, the team's USTA league name, plays in the 2.5 mixed national tournament Nov. 9-11 in Tucson.

The team is holding a tennis social Sat., Sept. 29 from 6-9 p.m. at the Wilde Lake Tennis Club. The rain date is 2-6 p.m., Sunday.

"It will be free to play. There will be food and the opportunity to meet and greet other tennis players," Savoy said.

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