Bengals and Broncos Claim Titles at USTA National Spring Team Championships
by Colette Lewis
, 10 March 2017
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The USTA National Spring Team Championships were in their fourth year at the Mobile Tennis Center, yet it was two first-time coaches who led the Bengals and the Broncos to victory. Bryan Minton's Broncos won the boys title with a 5-2 victory over the Patriots, while Seth Walrath's Bengals came from behind to defeat the Stingrays 4-3 to earn the girls team championship.
The previous three years the tournament had included players from the 12s division, which meant eight players per team. The even-numbered total of four doubles matches and eight singles matches made it impossible to play a standard college format, so tiebreakers and shootouts were occasionally necessary. This year the 12s had their own Spring Team Championships in Tucson, so the Mobile teams consisted of two 14s, two 16s and two 18s players, who were allotted via a waterfall method based on USTA rankings.
With three doubles teams and six singles players, the Division I method of the best of seven points was used, and throughout the week 4-3 matches were frequent, although with every match played to completion, not all of those featured a last-match-on situation.
In order to get ahead of the rain that was predicted for Tuesday, the third day of competition, tournament officials tweaked the schedule, playing an extra doubles match on the first day, and two rounds of singles and a doubles match on the second day.
On that day, for scheduling reasons, the boys played their doubles point last, and the Broncos advanced to the finals with a dramatic 4-3 win over the Falcons. Down 4-0 in the no-ad, six-game set, the Broncos 14s team of Connor Krug and Isaac Smith won six straight games, and the 16s team of Harry Cacciatore and Cole Groetsch got a late break to clinch the doubles point and their place in the final.
Their opponents in the final, the Patriots, had beaten the Rams 4-3 in their semifinal, but the result was already decided before the doubles were played.
Morning rain pushed back the start time of the boys final on Tuesday by two hours, but the delay didn't affect the Broncos, who started strong and never let up.
The Broncos took the 14s doubles, with Krug and Smith beating Baylor Sai and Jake Krug, Connor's twin brother, 6-3. The Patriots responded by taking the 18s doubles, with Kevin Zhu and Randy Cory taking out John Speicher and Andrew Rogers 6-4. That meant the point would come down to 16s doubles, and as they had done against the Falcons Monday night, Cacciatore and Groetsch clinched the point, beating Leighton Allen and Nicholas Garcia 6-4.
After capturing four first sets in singles, the Broncos were in the driver's seat, and the Patriots could do nothing to slow them down. Rogers gave the Broncos their second point, taking the match at the 18s line 2 over Cory 6-3, 6-4. Five minutes later, Smith made it 3-0, beating Jake Krug 7-5, 6-4 at the 14s line 2.
This left the Patriots needing to force third sets in the two matches where they trailed and they looked to be doing that at the 14s line 1, with Sai up a break in the second set against Connor Krug. But Krug fought back, forced a tiebreaker and went on to clinch the championship with a 6-1, 7-6(6) victory.
"He saved a bunch of set points there, and that was a huge match," Minton said.
Just minutes after Krug had clinched, Groetsch closed out Garcia 6-4, 6-3 at the 16s line 2 to make it 5-0. Although Allen gave the Patriots a point with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Cacciatore at the 16s line 1, and Zhu got his eighth win of the tournament against no losses with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Speicher at the 18s line 1 to make the final score 5-2, Patriots coach Matthew Boughton acknowledged the great performance by the Broncos.
"We had our opportunities in the 14s singles, but couldn't close out the match," said Boughton, who has coached a team all four years the tournament has been held, but was making his first appearance in the finals. "But a lot of credit goes to the other team. They're a good team. My guys fought, but 5-2, that's a tough one."
Minton didn't need much prompting to name a most valuable player on his team.
"Harry Cacciatore was my MVP," said Minton, a partner at MW Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. "I already told him that. He lost his singles match today, but he pulled out so many tough matches for us along the way. His team spirit was amazing, he was always the one to count us down, he had great energy, great focus, and I just believed in him. I believed in the whole team, every one of the guys was amazing, but Harry really stood out. He was cheering for everyone else in the middle of some of his own big battles."
Like Minton, Cacciatore had never participated in the tournament before.
"I actually didn't get my national ranking up until like last year," said the 16-year-old high school junior from Gainesville, Florida. "It was a great experience, and I'll for sure play next year."
Cacciatore said his limited exposure to team events made the tournament special for him, and he welcomed the opportunity to see what may await him in college.
"I think college will be like this a little bit, the way they did the doubles, so it was awesome experience to get a taste of that, and I can't wait to be back next year," Cacciatore said.
As for winning a title in his first year, Cacciatore was aware of his good fortune.
"I think I just got lucky with a good team, and we just had the best chemistry on the court," Cacciatore said.
Minton, who is also looking forward to returning next year, agreed.
"The team spirit was just huge," said Minton, who coached Shelby Rogers earlier in her career. "I think that's probably what helped us more than anything else, just the camaraderie that the boys had, how they cheered for each other and kept the energy up. It was a blast."
In the third place match, the Rams defeated the Falcons 4-3, with Chase Wood clinching the match at the 18s line 1 with a 7-6(3), 6-4 win over Beau Pelletier.
The boys tournament sportsmanship award went to Malachi Coleman of Los Ranchos, New Mexico, who played for the Saints.
While the boys managed to finish their tournament on Tuesday, a day early, the girls were not as fortunate. The rain returned in the late afternoon, delaying the eight girls team matches in progress until Wednesday morning.
In the final, the Stingrays had taken a 3-1 lead over the Bengals when rain halted play, dealing the Bengals their first loss of the doubles point in the tournament.
Kolie Allen and Catherine Gulihur defeated the Bengals 18s team of Jennifer Kerr and Sydney Jones 6-2, with Carmen Corley and Casey Accola clinching the point by beating Carly Briggs and Kelsey Mize 6-3 in the 16s. Bengals Mary Grace Armistead and Daniella Benabraham took the 14s doubles with a 6-3 win over Eleana Yu and Rebecca Lynn.
Gulihur defeated Jones at the 18s line 2 by a 6-1, 6-1 score, making it 2-0 Stingrays, with Mize then putting the Bengals on the board with a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Accola at the 16s line 2. Lynn defeated Benabraham 6-0, 6-1 at the 14s line 2 to make it 3-1 Stingrays. Minutes after Lynn's victory, rain stopped play.
The sun made a comeback the next morning, and so did the Bengals, who knew they needed to win all three singles matches still on court.
When play resumed, the Stingrays were only three games from the title, with Corley leading Briggs 7-5, 3-4 at the 16s line 1. Corley held for 4-4 and Briggs won her next service game easily, putting the pressure squarely back on Corley. At 30-all, Corley netted a forehand to give Briggs a set point, and a double fault followed, giving the Bengals the split they had to have.
"They came out on fire," Bengals coach Seth Walrath said of his team. "I was a little worried, because it was a morning match, our first morning match all week. But they brought really good energy."
As for Briggs, Walrath said she was disappointed to lose the momentum she had gained in the second set Tuesday afternoon, but didn't allow herself to dwell on that.
"She came out fired up, and tactically she did what we talked about," said Walrath, Junior Development Program Coordinator for the USTA Middle States section. "She was patient, she threw in the slice a little bit and moved the other girl, who had very big shots. There was no reason for [Briggs] to try to outhit her opponent, she just had to weather the storm."
The Bengals had taken the opening set in the other two matches, so the task for Kerr at the 18s line 1 and Armistead at the 14s line 1 was to close out their opponents. That proved easier said than done however.
Kerr served for the match twice against Allen, who had saved a match point serving down 3-5 in the second. Kerr had three more match points serving at 5-4, but Allen saved them all and held for 5-5. Kerr got another break and another chance to put her point on the board, and she went up 40-0, but those match points also came and went. The emotionless Kerr didn't show any frustration until she double faulted on her eighth match point, but she quickly regrouped, earning a ninth match point. Allen forced an error on that one, but a point later Kerr earned her tenth match point, and finally converted, blasting a backhand winner to pull the Bengals even.
While Kerr and Allen were battling through their last three games, Armistead had come from 3-1 down in the second set against Yu, winning five straight games to post a 7-5, 6-3 victory at the 14s line 1. Armistead won all eight of her matches in the tournament, and was the hero of the Bengals 4-3 semifinal win over the Sharks late Monday night, winning the last match on in three sets.
"I'm very comfortable in that situation," said the 14-year-old from Hilton Head, South Carolina. "I've done team sports before, so it's normal for me. But I couldn't do it without my team."
Armistead is also not likely to panic when she's behind.
"I was down three times in the tournament, and I won five games straight in every one of them," Armistead said. "Against Saige Roshkoff, I was down 6-4, 5-2, 15-40, she had three match points, and I won the set 7-5. So I know, if I start losing, there's opportunities to come back, I know I can come back."
"Mary Grace is a pistol," said Walrath. "She's a pistol and she's a fighter. In our second round against Saige Roshkoff, she was down a set and 5-2 and she comes back to win the match. Every little step along the way, in a team environment like that, you might get a little lucky sometimes, but every single person on this team contributed."
After Kerr's win had made it 3-3, the Stingrays' Corley was serving down 3-4. She was broken at 30-40 and Briggs was able to serve out the only three-setter of the final 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
"These girls have been amazing," said Walrath. "When ever somebody has gone down, somebody else is there to pick it up. I still think it came down to our chemistry. And hopefully they have made a couple of friendships here that last."
Stingrays coach Chris Kwon knew there was much work to be done when his team returned to the courts, despite their 3-1 lead.
"I knew there were three close matches and they could go either way," said Kwon, a private coach from Boca Raton Florida, who was participating in the tournament for the first time. "We could have won all three, or we could have lost all three, which we did. But I just wanted them all to start as fast as possible, have a great mindset and a goal they wanted to accomplish, execute, leave it all out there. That's exactly what they did, and I'm proud of all my kids."
The bronze medallions went to the Angels, with Zoe Howard defeating the Sharks' Malaika Rapolu 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-0 at the 16s line 2 to clinch the 4-3 victory.
The sportsmanship award went to Ellie Wright of Gainesville Florida, who played for the Red Hawks.
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About Colette Lewis
has covered topflight U.S. and international junior
events as a freelance journalist for over a decade.
Her work has appeared in Tennis
magazine, the Tennis
magazine and the US Open program, and she
provides monthly content for USTA Florida. Lewis is active on
and she writes a weekly column right here at TennisRecruiting.net.
She was named
Junior Tennis Champion
for 2016 by Tennis Industry Magazine.
Lewis, based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has seen every National
Championship final played since 1977, and her work on the
tournament's ustaboys.com website
led her to establish
where she comments on junior and college tennis daily.