The United States Tennis Association’s men’s 65-and-over tennis team from the Chagrin Valley Athletic Club continued their torrid run this year. The CVAC men’s team pulled off a stunning upset at the USTA Midwest sectionals in Pendleton, IND by sweeping Wisconsin 3-0 on Oct. 24 to earn a spot at the USTA National Invitational.
“Everybody’s excited,” said team captain Bill Oler. “We’re very positive about what’s ahead having gotten this far. We’re going to be meeting with 15 other regions around the country.”
In order to qualify for the Midwest sectionals, the CVAC men’s team had to make it out of the Northeast Ohio district tournament. The past several years saw the CVAC men’s team battling up to five other teams from their district to secure a spot in the Midwest sectionals.
However, this year there were only three teams from the Northeast Ohio district vying for a spot at the sectional tournament. USTA regulations stipulated that any team vying for a berth at sectionals must have a minimum number of six players but several teams did not meet those requirements.
Only CVAC, Paramount Medina and Paramount Westlake were eligible to compete this year. CVAC played each team four times over the season and finished with a record of 7-1 to make it to sectionals.
Advancing to sectionals, CVAC competed in a six-team pool from the Midwestern region to qualify for nationals. The six teams were divided into two flights at the sectional tournament. CVAC needed to win its bracket consisting of teams from Indiana and Illinois to advance to the final round.
Each match consisted of three doubles matches so the team that won two out of three would remain in the hunt.
The CVAC men’s team defeated Indiana 2-1 in their first match then beat Illinois 2-1 to advance to the championship match against Wisconsin. According to Oler, Wisconsin was heavily favored to win the finals.
“It was important to put the pairings we had in the right position and give them a track to run on,” the Tanglewood resident said. “I felt that the first two matches we had we would optimize our opportunity for winning our matches and it did happen that way.”
The tandem of Tom Wigglesworth and Bill Mooney put CVAC ahead 1-0 by rolling their competition 6-0, 6-0 in the number three doubles match. Oler admitted he believed CVAC would struggle the most at number three doubles. He changed the lineup five times before he finally settled on pairing Wigglesworth and Mooney together.
“They just played the match of their lives,” he said. “They just stepped up and absolutely overwhelmed the competition. Everything they did, the competition couldn’t figure out how to beat them. They didn’t get one game from these guys.”
Phil Christman and Gary Zwick secured a berth at nationals after winning the number one doubles match 6-1, 6-2. The CVAC men’s team capped off the sweep with Terry Medlar and Bill Seelbach winning 0-6, 6-3 (10-7) at number two doubles.
After getting swept in the first set, Oler said Medlar and Seelbach mounted an impressive comeback.
“They just wore their competition down,” he said. “The second doubles team has a style of play that just absolutely wears the competition down. They lob a lot and their strategy is to put the ball where the other guys aren’t and make them run.”
It marked the first time CVAC won the Midwestern sectionals since Oler founded the team in 2013. The men’s team won the district tournament last year guaranteeing them a spot at nationals. Due to COVID, there was no sectional tournament so CVAC advanced directly to USTA nationals in Surprise, AZ.
After a surge in COVID cases in Arizona, the national tournament was cancelled in November. Oler expressed what a deflating feeling it was to watch his team’s season come to a premature end.
“It was terrible,” he recalled. “We had already made airline reservations and everything so it was a blow. We were told we were going to have nationals and were told we were invited and to not be able to capitalize and put an exclamation mark on our season from last year was a very big disappointment.
Returning most of their team from the previous season, the CVAC team captain said his team was motivated to come back this year and dominate the regular season and secure a bid at nationals once again.
Since he founded the team in 2013, it has only grown stronger. Oler cited his recruitment of players from various tennis clubs throughout the Northeast Ohio region as a key factor in the team’s development.
“We’re always looking to get better every year,” he said. “This has been a culmination of many years of trial and error with guys not only from our clubs but guys from other clubs. I’ve had my eyes and ears open for talent that might be able to help us to advance to this point.”
The CVAC men’s team will travel to the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex in January. They will play two matches each on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29 and if they have one of the four best records from the first two days they will advance to the Final Four on Jan. 30.