published Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Locals head to USTA nationals

Talent, teamwork and time together go a long way in team tennis — Texas, for instance.

That set of T's is taking a local group to a USTA national tournament in San Antonio in March.

Current captain Shana Patten and former captain Debbie Rogers were on the 7.0 mixed seniors team that won the Eastern Nationals in 2006 in Puerto Rico, as were Terry Brown, Judy Coomer and brothers Dave and Dan Dameron. Those six have moved up to 8.0 combo status and joined John Coomer, Barry Brooks, Cindy Cihlar, Beth Ector, David Frank, Andy Miller and 4.5-rated players Kirk Kelly and Boo Mullinex in going 9-1 in 2011 state and sectional tournaments.

At the Southern sectional in Macon, Ga., the Racquet Club-based Chattanoogans won 3-0 over Georgia and 2-1 over Alabama, Mississippi and the wild-card entry from Upper East Tennessee.

"Kirk and Boo are my difference makers," Patten said recently. "And the Boo and Andy Miller pairing has gone undefeated in locals, state and sectionals."

The Racquet Club held a holiday doubles tournament to help raise money for the team's Texas trip, and the results were doubly positive, Patten said. Not only were the proceeds helpful, with about 110 players in all the divisions, but three of her 50-over duos reached the 8.0 semifinals and Mullinex and Miller defeated Brown and Frank in the final.

"The other semifinalists were Brad Pope and Kathleen Brock. I think they're both in their 30s, so they were tough," Patten said. "I call on Brad a lot for practice matches against our players. I try to get players who give us significant competition, and he and several other local people have been very generous with their time."

While Patten tries to keep opponents off guard with where she slots her teams, she's very adamant about keeping her tandems together.

"We keep set teams and won't change unless somebody gets injured," she said. "But all our players are good. I spend copious amounts of time studying other teams' tendencies, but I don't want anybody to study me and find tendencies."

Her partner is Brooks, while Rogers plays with Dave Dameron and Ector with Dan Dameron. Kelly plays with Cihlar, and the Coomers are a husband-and-wife team.

"This is a good, deep team. Everybody's a good player," said Rogers, a vice president of the Chattanooga Tennis Association. "But it's a good group of people, too. We all get along well."

She emphasized that it's Patten's team now.

"This was Debbie's team for years. She did a great job building it," Patten said. "But this year [2011] she asked me to take over. She had a wedding coming up -- it was going to be in the fall; now it's April. The players know I am a good communicator, but they also know I make the decisions and I want to win."

A physical therapist, she came to Chattanooga in 1997 and joined Rogers' team in 2006. She didn't start playing tennis until 1992, but one of her early coaches was Steven Denton, a former top doubles player on the ATP Tour and now the Texas A&M coach.

"We moved a lot, and I decided tennis could be a way for me to meet people and stay physically active," Patten said. "Steve got me interested in team tennis."

And teamwork comes from team work, she believes. Although all her players probably play three times a week anyway -- "Boo probably plays five" -- Patten will have them reconvening in February for weekly practices as they tune up for the USTA nationals. Some of them are playing in a local tri-level weekend tournament that will carry into next month.

"This is a very dedicated group," the captain said. "They all like winning, too."

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