Two Chattanooga teams will be representing Tennessee in the Southern Sectional junior team tennis tournament Aug. 15-17 in Lexington, S.C.
The Chattanooga Heat Strokes coached by Dale Faulkner won the 18-under intermediate state title Sunday at the Champions Club, and the Chattanooga Lightning directed by Raul Fernandez won the 14-under intermediate division.
Other Tennessee champions are Cedar Bluff Racquet Club Red from Knoxville in 18s advanced (downing CBRC Blue in the finals), the KRC Aces in 12s advanced, the Nashville String Poppers in 10s advanced, Knoxville Fox Den in 12s intermediate, the Greeneville Flying Aces in 10s intermediate and the Whittington Creek Grizzlies in 8s intermediate.
Cedar Bluff Blue was the 12s advanced runner-up and is headed to the sectional as a Southern wild card, and the 14s advanced Cedar Bluff Blue got to bypass the state tournament in Chattanooga and will be going to South Carolina as well.
The Chattanooga Blue Aces won the 12s beginner title, but there is no sectional play for that. The Chattanooga Manker Minions were second in that "green dot" division, so nicknamed because they use balls with green dots.
In determining whether a team is intermediate or advanced, Fernandez explained, "If any player on your team is ranked in the top 300 in the South, the team is advanced."
His team just played like it, whipping the Summer Crest Alley Cats from Hendersonville 37 points to 12 in the 14-u semifinals Sunday and defeating Cedar Bluff Green 37-25 in the finals.
The Lightning, representing the Racquet Club where Fernandez works, include players from Hixson Middle School, Signal Mountain, East Hamilton, McCallie and Baylor. The girls on the team are Mary Elizabeth Wakim, Sarah Kate Bradley, Rachel Hruby, Avalon Langley and Sidney Dattilo. The guys are Logan Lintine, Nicholas Webber, Thomas Thelen and brothers Grant and Gabe Williams.
Dattilo and Webber were on the Fernandez-coached 12-under Lightning who finished third in the 2013 state tournament.
Comprising the Heat Strokes this past weekend were Kacey Stephens, Chloe Mitchell, Alison Anderson, Rachel Faulkner, Katie DeLay, Connor O'Brien, Blake Savard, Barrett Shock and Kyle Molhusen. Ryan Tyson was unavailable because of injury. Schools represented are Baylor, McCallie, Grace Academy, Boyd-Buchanan, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy.
They beat the Chattanooga Chargers 37-13 in the semifinals and then topped Cedar Bluff Green 28-13, forgoing the usually concluding mixed doubles.
Six of the Heat Strokes players have been together "three or four years" in team tennis, according to Dale Faulkner, and were on a team that went to the 2012 sectional in Auburn, Ala., as an 18-u advanced champion.
"We're intermediate now because most of the kids have quit playing [USTA] junior tournaments where they get rankings," Coach Faulkner said. "We didn't do well at all in the sectional two years ago. Just about all the kids there can play college tennis.
"But we played some good competition this weekend, and [our players'] confidence is very high right now. That's because they play so well together as a team. They get along really well together; they socialize together; and they've very committed to the game. This a good group of kids, and they enjoy being around each other."
Additionally, assistant coach Mike Stephens "has been a tremendous help," Coach Faulkner added.
The real secret to successful team tennis is doubles.
"That's 60 percent of a match. If you can win in doubles, you're going to go pretty far," said Fernandez, also the Hixson High School tennis coach. "That's especially true in the younger age groups, where they aren't as used to doubles. If you can get a team that knows how to play doubles, you're good to go."
Another local team that did well all weekend was "Team Chattanooga," the hosting group blending Chattanooga Tennis Association, Chattanooga Sports Committee and city Youth and Family Development efforts. The tournament included nearly 500 players and made use of facilities at UTC, Baylor and GPS as well as the Champions Club.
Even the Chattanooga Lookouts got involved, as hosts of the tournament player party.
"They all worked together to help put this event on, and they were absolutely great," said Tara Williams, the USTA Tennis junior team tennis coordinator. "And we couldn't have asked for better weather. It was fabulous."
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.