The North Georgia Tennis Association (NOGTA) is centered around people having fun, getting involved in the sport and building friendships through the game.
It’s also about serious competition.
The Senior 7.5 Women’s Double Combo team representing NOGTA proved that in a resounding way, winning the state title at the 2012 Southern Combo tournament in Dalton in November. Captained by Janet Lovelady, the team is made up of 15 local players, and the group earned a spot in the Southern Sectionals Combo tournament. The event, hosted in Dothan, Ala., will occur in March.
The 7.5 team brought home the biggest trophy from the event, but it was joined in the collection of hardware by the 7.5 Senior Men and the 8.5 Adult Women, who both finished as tournament runner-ups. The 7.5 men also earned a wild-card entry into the Dothan event.
The victory for the Lovelady team at the state championship was the culmination of a year-long drive to win the title.
Lovelady said while most of the players on the team have played against each other in singles events and with each other in doubles events, this team began taking shape last January with one goal in mind.
“Most of us have played together at one point in time over the last several years,” Lovelady said. “But state is what we really were building for.”
Other members of the team are Sharon Ouzts, Michelle Puryear, Sarah Cargle, Susan Pennington, Lisa Douglas, Betty Andersen, Cathy Palmer, Debbie Harmon, Felice McNaughton, Gina Self, Ginger Oxenhandler, Kim Conner, Pam Womack and Shirley Kile.
“It was so great to have local teams do so well,” said NOGTA local league coordinator and Southern Combo tournament director Deb Wells.
“It certainly shows the quality of the tennis around this area.”
In tennis leagues across the state, players are given rankings with the lower the score, the better the player.
In the combo double events, the combined ranking of the two players cannot exceed the limit of the event.
For instance, in the 7.5 tournament, the combined ranking of the two players had to be 7.5 or lower, meaning a 2.5 player and a 5.0 player could compete with each other in a doubles event. For Lovelady’s team to qualify as “seniors,” all of the team members had to have turned 50 or older during the calendar year in which the event took place.
“We are all 49 and will turn 50 in the last week of the year,” Lovelady said with a laugh.
In the tournament in Dalton, the group was divided into two pools with five teams each. Three doubles matches were played between teams with teams needing to win 2-of-3 to earn the team point.
The NOGTA team went 3-1 in pool play, losing to LaGrange but winning the pool after LaGrange lost to Atlanta and Augusta.
Macon won the other side of the tournament, and Lovelady’s team claimed the title with a 3-0 sweep in the finals. Lovelady said it was the members of her group buying into the “team” aspect of the competition that brought about the success.
“I don’t think that we had growing pains at all because we all know each other and have played together and played against each other over the years,” she said. “It was a real team effort because they said they would do whatever it would take, whether it was playing or cheering or bringing water. I think it came together very smoothly.”
The also take it seriously.
“We have fun times, but when it comes to league play or state play, it is all business,” Lovelady said. “We were focused and we left it all out on the court. We won as a team and we were going to lose as a team. They were very dedicated.”
After the holidays, Lovelady said her group will start gearing up for the Sectionals. The tournament will include nine state champions from around the Southeast as well as a wild card with pools broken into teams of five. The team captain said she hopes winning the state title served as good preparation for the next round.
“Georgia has a reputation of being one of the hardest states to go through and win a state tournament,” Lovelady said. “Georgia has such a rich history of USTA and it is a hotbed for tennis. These things are highly competitive, and I don’t care what your age is.”