Members of the Rancho Cienega Tennis Club 4.0 Senior Men’s Team pose with Southern California Tennis Association Executive Director Henry Talbert at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center on Nov. 19, 2011. Photo by Stephanie Cunningham
The scene at Racho Cienega Park this past Saturday was typical.
Kids were playing sports. Parents were chatting amongst themselves about their kids’ activities.
However there was a group of men on the tennis courts that had a certain aura about them that wasn’t so typical. These men were different from the rest. These men were champions.
Last month the men from the Rancho Cienega Tennis Club went to Indian Wells representing the Southern California section. They returned as the 2011 USTA League 4.0 Senior National Champions.
For their accomplishments, the team was recognized this past Saturday with trophies from the United States Tennis Association, as well as certificates of achievement from the Pete Brown Scholarship Fund and congratulatory certificates from the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson.
“We in the Southern California Tennis Association are happy to recognize this because, after all, tennis is what we’re about and these guys represent a real excellent result,” said Southern California Tennis Association executive director Henry Talbert.
The team consisted of: Jon Moody, Steve Onderwyzer, Steve Kigawa, Phillip Brooks, Ricky Atkins, Gavin Troster, Gregory Frampton, Kirk Kay, Mani Morshed, Gregory Douglas, Gary Johnson, and team captain Verdell Adams.
This is the first championship for the team, which lost in the national semifinals two years ago.
“After coming so close in 2009, winning this year in 2011 was a sweet vindication,” said Johnson.
Many of the players have faced each other before as members of different clubs.
“I’ve been fortunate to play against these guys an awful lot. In fact in the senior league last year, Verdell and all the guys out of here whipped my team pretty good,” said Troster, who previously played for a team in Toluca Lake. “So I got to meet some of these guys. And I was thrilled when I got the call to come over and play for them this year.”
Troster got that call from Moody, who has partnered on the court with Kigawa for the past 28 years.
“We’ve been playing with and against each other for a long time so we decided to put our best teams together, best players together,” said Moody. “And when you put your best people together you come up with a great team, and you accomplish special things, and that’s what we did.”
The championship didn’t come easy to the team, which faced a 5-1 deficit against Texas in a set in the semifinals.
“They were just blowing us off the court,” said Moody. “So what we did was we changed strategy on them. We started playing Aussie to take away their cross-court returns. We started playing back when they were serving, keep the ball in play. We poach, fake-poach. And they couldn’t handle it.”
The team went on to win the set, before taking the next set 6-1.
In the finals against Hawaii, Kigawa credits the team’s composure and consistency with helping them capture the championship.
“At that level a lot of people have the skills,“ said Kigawa. “What separates them apart is the strategy and the mental toughness, and just desire to overcome any obstacle no matter what it may be, and just never to quit on any shot.”
The championship means a lot to Adams, who feels that the surrounding community plays a large role in the team’s success. Yet league rules limit returning teams to bringing back just three players from the year before, which could damper Adams’ hopes for a repeat. Although he doesn’t seem discouraged.
“We’ve got a lot of players that are eligible to be on the team next year, which means that if all goes right we can probably have a chance to do it again,” said Adams.
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