By Marlena Chavira-Medford
A group of eight women have hit the courts regularly for years at Winner Tennis Club in Solana Beach. But when the women formed a team this season, none of them had an inkling they’d soon be making club history.
The team recently won third place in the U.S. Tennis Association’s 3.0 Senior’s League National Championships, a first for Winner Tennis Club.
“We really didn’t think we’d make it this far,” said teammate Susie Burger, who plays on a doubles team with her sister Jill Cooper. Both women have tennis in the blood, as their 80-year old mother is an alumnus of the 1998 and 2000 nationals. “When we won, it was total elation.”
Part of what makes this victory so remarkable, she added, is that fact that all of these women are 50 or older.
“All of us are mothers, so we’ve all spent years cheering on our own kids at basketball games, and piano recitals, and track meets — so it’s neat to have the focus back on us now.”
Seated courtside at Winner Tennis Club, some of the women relive one of the more trying moments they faced during that championship.
“My big memory I will take away from this experience is Sarah Cheng, she gets the inspiration award in my book,” Jill Cooper said.
After drinking too much water and not eating enough, Sarah Cheng started to get severe cramps during one of the matches.
“So I took a medical timeout,” Cheng recalls. “But when I went back on the court, I started cramping again. I wasn’t allowed to take another time out so I just fell to the ground. The referee said I had 30 seconds to get up.”
That’s when her teammates began to cheer her on with all their might from the sidelines.
“I couldn’t look at any of them in that moment, but I could hear them and I could feel them pulling me though that pain,” Cheng said.
“It was one of the most amazing things to watch: She forced herself to her feet and slowly began to walk” Burger said. “She was walking like Frankenstein, but she was walking.”
With the help of teammate Florencia Cordero, the team went on to win that match in a tiebreaker. None of those victories, however, would have been possible without the team tennis pro Willy Morfitt, the women said.
The teammates include Susie Burger, Jill Cooper, Sara Cheng, Florencia Cordero, Donna Kuriyama, Linda Gaise-Froese, Gracie Jones, and Crista Hubbard. All of them hail from Solana Beach, Del Mar and Carmel Valley, and their professions range from retired educators to hair dresser to school psychologist.
“This championship was the experience of a lifetime and it’s especially meaningful because it came to us all so late in life,” Burger said. “I’d encourage anyone out there to come try their hand at tennis. And the Winners Tennis Club is a great place to learn because it’s not intimidating. If your tennis skirt is faded, so what, you can wear it here and nobody cares It’s very relaxed, which is why we all love it here. So even if someone’s never picked up a tennis racquet, it’s never too late in life to try something new.”
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