Sweet Shots' Sweet Success

Sweet Shots' Sweet Success

One of Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion’s ladies tennis teams wins Virginia district tournament.

Less than two weeks ago 16 Loudoun wives, mothers and friends found themselves in an unusually position: at the top of the Virginia tennis heap.

Representing the Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion, the Sweet Shots team won the Virginia district tournament to become the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Adult Ladies State Champions at the 3.5 level.

"Everyone had a little better idea of what to expect this year," player Donna Whitwell, 47, of Ashburn, said of the tournament, which the team attended for the second year. "We were able to manage our nerves better this time."

After beating 15 other Virginia teams, and winning all six of their district matches, the Sweet Shots will head to the sectionals Aug. 10 through 12 to compete against the championship teams from West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The winner of the next round will move on to the national tournament in Las Vegas in October.

"It’s exciting," Whitwell said. "We have a really great group of ladies on the team."

MOST OF THE women who make up the Sweet Shots were not tennis players before they started playing at the Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion.

"I always loved tennis, but there wasn’t really a lot of opportunity for me to play growing up," Julie Harnish, 37, a doubles player and co-captain of the team, said.

The team was formed four years ago at the pavilion and is made up of women from 28 to 52 years old.

"Every year is a little bit different," Harnish said, "but we have a really strong team this year."

"We put in a lot of hard work and have a lot of experience," Whitwell said.

EACH WOMAN ON the team plays at the USTA’s 3.5 skill level. In the USTA players begin at level 2.5 and move up in .5 increments through level 10, where most professionals play.

"Every time you play in a match you get points," Harnish said. "The more points you get, the higher the level you go to."

In order to win the Virginia district tournament, the women had to win matches made up of three doubles games and two singles games. In order to win a match a team must win three out of the five games.

This year the Sweet Shots took 15 players to the tournament, which coach Ken Whitaker said helped them, by giving the women time to rest and providing more depth from which to pull.

WHITAKER, WHO BECAME the team’s coach in April, also played a role in the team’s success, Whitwell said.

"This was the first year that any coach of any team I have been on has gone down with us to a tournament," she said. "I don’t think we would have had the same success without him there."

Since joining the team this spring, Whitaker said he has tried to implement the three different parts of tennis: physical, mental and strategic.

"You’ve got to be thinking all the time," Whitaker said of the game. "You’ve got to stay focused and in the present."

To prepare the team members, Whitaker played a lot of potential scenarios out, helping them to think about what they would do in each one.

"It’s a very effective way of helping them to understand the importance of staying in the moment and staying aggressive when you’re ahead," he said. "They listened well and tried to implement what I’ve told them."

WINNING TAKES A lot of time and effort as well as a mental understanding of the game. The Sweet Shots practice once a week with Whitaker and most of the women take private lessons and play together a few more times a week.

"Most of us play two or three times a week," Harnish said.

Besides the physical benefits, Harnish said tennis has given her an outlet in her personal life.

"It’s a really great way for us to be competitive," she said. "So in the rest of our life we can be more relaxed."

Whitwell, a mother of the three teenagers, said playing on the team has given her something that is only for her.

"Being a mom you shouldn’t lose yourself in other ways," she said. "You’ve got to define yourself in other ways. It also shows my kids that it’s important to stay active and fit and find a sport you love. It helps keep your life balanced."

THE WOMEN of the Sweet Shots have also found the balance between tennis and their lives as women.

"This team is very close," Whitaker said. "Even though they haven’t all been together for all four years, they are very unselfish with each other. They really want the good of the team to happen. That says a lot about them."

The team members said it is their busy lives that help them to stay positive while playing and their personal lives that help them to be successful as a team.

"We all have a good perspective on life," Harnish said. "I’ve been on other things where tennis is everything, but we have a lot of children within the team, so we know there are other things that are more important."

"It’s just tennis," Whitwell said. "It’s just fun. You can succeed and have fun at the same time. At the end of the day, I feel that our team has been able to stay so strong for so many years because it’s a really special group of women."