During the annual Martha’s Vineyard Community Tennis Fall Classic tournament in September, an all-ages competition, a curious thing happened on the way to the championships. Five young girls — all 12 or 13 years old — emerged as victors.
The tournament field featured more than 100 players competing in nine difficulty levels, with 9.0 being the top division. In the 8.0 division, 13-year-olds Kelly Klaren and Kat Roberts walked away the victors. Twelve-year-olds Victoria Scott and Lizzie Williamson won the 7.0 division. And 13-year-old Molly deBettencourt, partnering with uncle Mike Marshard in the mixed doubles 9.0 division, was also tops.
The tweens were all playing against adults in their respective divisions, making the feat all the more impressive. But they’re no strangers to tournament play. All are members of the tournament team at the youth tennis center. In the past month, Victoria has earned two tournament wins off-Island, while Kat took second place in a Rhode Island contest. Both were playing up in the ranks, with seventh-grader Victoria in the 14-and-under division and eighth-grader Kat playing in the 16-and-under division for the first time.
“We wanted to establish a team of kids who were dedicated to tennis,” said tennis center executive director Scott Smith. At the tennis center, kids begin lessons with other players in their age group. Players join the tournament team at a coach’s invitation as early as fifth grade. Nearly all of the players on the two-time state champion high school boys’ team were tournament players, Mr. Smith said.
Now, he said, “happens to be the girls’ cycle.” Besides the five older girls, another wave of preteens is showing promise, and behind them a new group of boys.
“It’s a real commitment when you get to the tournament team,” said parent Chris Scott. The players must participate in three United States Tennis Association tournaments over the course of a five-month lesson schedule. They also participate in a challenge ladder within the tennis center ranks. In addition to their tennis classes on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, they attend a USTA rules and regulations class to become more familiar with the organization’s structure.
Parent Kim Klaren said she’d noticed the emphasis on tennis etiquette and protocol, recalling that at one tournament, her daughter Kelly was stunned that other players weren’t wearing tennis whites. The coaches emphasize sportsmanship above all else, particularly regarding fair line calls.
“They’re poised,” Mrs. Klaren said of the juniors. “They went about matches with a great sense of purpose.”
“They get experience playing really good players,” Mr. Scott said. Tennis lessons are one thing, he said, but match play is a different beast entirely.
Tournament play is “the ultimate [step],” Mr. Smith said. “You can gauge your progress.” As Victoria Scott described her first tournament, “I got creamed, 6-0, 6-0.” She’s now ranked in the top 100 of the 12-and-under division for junior girls’ tennis in New England. Three of the other girls are also in the top hundred of their divisions.
It is difficult for Vineyard players to travel to off-Island competition, Mr. Smith said, making the “good rankings on limited tournaments” stand out.
“It’s definitely a good experience,” Kat said. In addition to the solo tournaments the girls travel to, they often compete as doubles partners.
“They’ll say, hey, let’s go play in this tournament,” Mr. Smith said. “That happens all the time.”
“I like how it’s a team sport,” Lizzie said, acknowledging that singles play is fun, too. The players are good friends off the courts as well.
“They get along well, 100 per cent,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s always going to be competition, but they just have all come up together.”