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At Greenville Invite, Advanced JTT Players Enjoy Playing Team Tennis

February 1, 2016 03:53 PM

By Jonathon Braden, USTA South Carolina

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Every year, thousands of boys and girls play USTA Junior Team Tennis in South Carolina. But since 1990, when the national team tennis program was founded, one particular group in the state has largely passed on JTT: advanced players.

Those players, the theory goes, compete in too many tournaments to make time for JTT. They also allegedly don’t benefit from the program, which features weekly matches against similarly-skilled players, as much as beginning players do.

Last weekend, though, Ashlyn Cousins of the Greenville Junior Team Tennis program helped prove those theories wrong for the fourth consecutive year.

About 120 boys and girls participated in the 4th Annual Upstate Advanced Team Tennis Invitational, which was held at Furman University last weekend. (USTA South Carolina photo)

At the 4th Annual Upstate Advanced Team Tennis Invitational, about 120 advanced boys and girls enjoyed playing on tennis teams with their peers. They rooted for each other in between matches, and they cheered each other up after disappointing contests.

The players said they appreciated playing on a team with their friends, as opposed to playing for just themselves and competing against their friends at a tournament. "I like this a lot because of the camaraderie," said Seth McMaster, a junior in high school who plays JTT on a team out of the Greenville County Pavilion Recreational Complex.

During team tennis, another player said, you still feel pressure to win like you do at a tournament. But with JTT, you share that pressure with your friends.

"The pressure is the same because you’re trying to win," said Taylor Parrott, a high school senior who plays team tennis out of the Kroc Center in Greenville. 
"(But) if you don’t win your match, someone else might win their match and we still might win."

Parents and coaches also preferred seeing their children and players work with others. "They learn how to share, how to care for each other," said Anibal Braga, the head tennis professional at the Kroc Center. "They learn you cannot accomplish anything on your own."

Cousins, the invite organizer, knew these well-worn benefits of team tennis when she started the invite four years ago. Cousins, who was then the Greenville JTT coordinator, created the invite because she wanted kids of all skill levels to play team tennis.

At the time, the Greenville JTT program had seasons for beginning and intermediate players. But no advanced players were participating in JTT seasons, which are typically six to eight weeks long and feature one match every weekend.

Advanced players usually compete in more weekend tournaments than other players, which can make the weekly JTT commitment hard to fulfill.

So Cousins sought and got approval from USTA South Carolina to host an advanced JTT season over three days. During one January weekend in 2012, she started play on a Friday night, hosted matches all day Saturday and finished everything on Sunday.

About 50 kids participated, and for the first time, advanced players enjoyed Greenville JTT. "This is the first time I’ve ever had friends in tennis," some kids told Cousins after that first year.

Since then, she’s added an entire age division – 10 and under – and now welcomes about 120 players to the invite. Advanced players also have started playing regular Greenville JTT seasons, too.

Cousins’ next goal is encouraging more JTT programs across the state to host advanced-level play so the Greenville teams have competition at the USTA South Carolina Junior Team Tennis State Championships, which are scheduled for July 22-24, 2016, in Florence.

The Greenville players and coaches also would enjoy the additional opportunities to play team tennis.

Late Saturday morning, McMaster had just finished his singles match and was watching his teammates prepare for their mixed doubles match. (Every JTT match has five contests: two singles, two doubles and one mixed doubles.)

McMaster had just recounted the differences between JTT and tournament play. But, he said, the two also have a similarity, which happens to be the reason he and his friends take the court in the first place.

About USTA Junior Team Tennis, he said: "It’s just extra experience to go out and play tennis."