The rain was coming down steadily on Ryan Goldstein (COL ’09) and Alex Miller (SFS ’10) as the two stood together under the lights at the Owl Creek Tennis Center in Virginia Beach, Va. Goldstein and Miller’s mixed doubles match was the final set of the day, and the point would decide the contest between the Georgetown and Villanova club tennis teams. The weather was freezing, but Goldstein and Miller pressed on, playing entirely for pride as their teammates cheered them on from the side of the court.
With the set tied at 4-4, the Hoyas broke Villanova’s serve and went on to win 6-4. And just like that, a rivalry – along with Goldstein’s love of club tennis – was born.
“Just to be in the cold, under the lights, with nothing on the line but pride, and everyone playing and cheering so hard – it showed me quickly that there was a huge opportunity in club tennis,” Goldstein said.
Although the match against Villanova was in Goldstein’s first tournament as a member of the team, it was decided just a month later that he would take over as president of the team. Goldstein, along with John Nguyen-Phuong (COL ’07), has overseen an unprecedented rise to national prominence for the club team since Nguyen-Phuong founded the team in 2003. With just a few years under their belt in the fall of 2006 – when Goldstein and Miller took down Villanova – the Hoyas were ranked in the 50s by collegeclubtennis.com. Last spring, they had climbed to 17th, and today they stand at 11th out of roughly 200 clubs teams across the nation.
In February, Georgetown beat Virginia (currently ranked No. 6 in the country) and Virginia Tech (No. 9) to win the Mid-Atlantic Championship.
Tomorrow, eight players will leave for the 64-team national tournament in Cary, N.C., where the Hoyas will be one of the top 16 seeds.
The success is due in large part to the talent the team has been able to draw. Goldstein is one of four ex-varsity players on the club team (the other three are from the women’s varsity team). With Goldstein abroad in France this semester, the deep team has not skipped a beat en route to nationals.
“There’s about 20 of us who are just a notch below varsity,” says Nick Calta (COL ’10), who, along with Will Grosswendt (COL ’09), has been running the club for the semester.
The young team has even built several rivalries in its few years of competition, namely one with Villanova. This season, Villanova beat Georgetown in the Battle of the Sections, but the Hoyas repaid the favor at the Maryland Invitational, beating ‘Nova en route to the title. Villanova is currently ranked No. 12 nationally, one spot behind the Hoyas.
“Our rivalry with Villanova could certainly be called heated,” Goldstein says. “Because of the format of matches in tournaments – every game counts, substitutions, short sets, only two courts at once with everyone else watching – matches tend to get intense at times.”
But even though the team is stacked with club-level talent and has success in major tournaments, it caters to anyone on campus who has the itch to swing a racket. With no tryouts or cuts – a rarity among sports – anyone who is willing to pay the club dues is welcome to join the team. Dues are a one-time-only fee of $75 upon joining, and there are currently about 120 members.
The team holds two or three optional practices a week, which anywhere from 30 to 70 players attend.
“Typically at our practices, we’ll get people of all different ability levels,” Calta says. “It usually works out that there is a gradient of skill levels so that everyone will have someone of comparable skill level to hit with.”
olly Battle (NHS ’11), who played tennis in high school, says she enjoys the opportunity to be involved with a team-oriented club that competes in matches. But she also appreciates the laid-back nature of the group.
“It’s nice how the team is relaxed,” Battle says. “If it was more of a time commitment or a higher intensity, I wouldn’t be as involved as I am.”
With no coaches, the team’s leadership (made up of four or five members) organizes practices and trips to matches. While the rosters for the competitive tournaments are chosen based on talent, any member is welcome to participate in the dual matches scheduled with other schools.
“For an individual dual match on a weekend, we’d rather let some of our other members get in and play, even if that means we don’t win,” Calta says.
According to Calta, running a team and traveling to away matches (it is tough enough to compete with the varsity teams for courts to practice on, let alone schedule home matches) makes the club team a tight-knit group. Team members volunteer for UNICEF, participate in Relay for Life and have a party to watch the U.S. Open.
For the more involved members, the tragic death of Michael Jurist (SFS ’07), a recent graduate and integral member of the club team, has brought the group even closer.
“The leadership group is really close, especially after going through losing Mike,” Calta says. “His initials, [MEJ], are on the sleeves of our uniforms, and for the involved people, that brought the team together.”
Adds Goldstein: “It’s nice when other teams ask about the initials, because we get to tell them about Mike’s impression on us.”
Goldstein cites watching Jurist play against Villanova at Virginia Beach in the fall of 2006 as one of his fondest memories and recalls how Jurist’s nickname was invented at the tournament. “We called him `the gavel’ because of the way he put away volleys and laid down the law,” Goldstein says.
Goldstein, who has a unique perspective having played a season with the varsity team, feels the camaraderie on the club level is even stronger than that of the varsity because everything is student-run and optional. He says it is clear to him that everyone who shows up to events wants to be there.
“Road trips are always a great mix of new players or players who haven’t traveled with us much and `veterans,'” he explains. “I think this mix really helps keep things fresh and build team camaraderie.”
On the competitive side of the club, this weekend’s national tournament is the culmination of the season. The tournament’s format is a mix between soccer’s World Cup and basketball’s March Madness. The 64 teams are split into 16 pools of four teams, and each team plays the other three in its pool on the first day. The top team in each pool advances to the gold bracket to play for the championship, while the second-, third- and fourth-place teams go to one of the consolation brackets – silver, bronze or copper.
In the pool stage of the tournament on Thursday, Georgetown will have to play three matches in one day – against North Carolina at 8 a.m., Marquette at noon and UC-Irvine at 4 p.m. As the top seed in its pool, Georgetown is the favorite to advance to the gold bracket, and the team has equally high expectations.
“Last year we didn’t come in first in our group – we came in second,” Calta explains. “This year at the very least we’d like to finish first in our bracket.”
Goldstein, cheering on his team from halfway across the world, echoes Calta’s sentiments.
“Hopefully we can make it to the gold bracket,” he says, “and then grind out some wins from there. A top eight finish would be a huge, huge success.”
The way the bracket shakes out, Georgetown’s first opponent after pool play will come from Pool G, and who’s waiting in Pool G for the Hoyas? None other than Villanova.