March 20, 2014

Dalton tennis teams win Southern Sectional

It’s a good thing there is plenty of fencing around the tennis complex at Lakeshore Park in Dalton. Sooner or later, though, they are going to run out of places to put up signs commemorating state, regional and national tennis title for the North Georgia Tennis Association (NOGTA).

Recently, two NOGTA teams returned with more banners to hang up.

The Women’s 8.5 55-and-older and the Men’s 8.5 55-and-older teams both won tournament titles at the Combo Doubles Southern Sectional Championships, which were held March 7-9 in Dothan, Ala. The tournament is sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association.

The women’s team was captained by former Dalton resident Ann Miller and included Dalton’s Nancy Crutchfield and Sharon Ouzts in tournament play, which consists of two teammates on the court having combined National Tennis Rating Program ratings that do not exceed 8.5 when combined. The men’s team included Dalton’s Gary Herd and Gary Linn.

The championship featured representative teams from 11 states across the Southeast from the Carolinas to Arkansas, although Florida has its own sectional.

The majority of the team featuring Herd and Linn has been together since 2004, when they captured a USTA national title. Since then, they have claimed five state titles and two sectional championships. The Combo Division — which is billed by the USTA as “one of the fastest growing and most popular USTA leagues” — does not compete past the sectional level, so the teams will not be in a competition for a “national” title this year.

Herd said the core six of the men’s team — himself, Linn, Rick Bettis of Sweetwater, Tenn., Glenn Wear of Athens, Tenn. and Cleveland, Tenn., duo Charles Smith and Robert Taylor — have played together long enough to overcome most adversity. That included losing on the opening day of the tournament.

However, they managed to capture their pool and advanced to the final, winning 2-1 versus South Carolina.

“What did we really have to lose at that point?” Herd asked when talking about the route to the title. “Losing on Friday may have been the best thing for us. It all worked out. Friday night we all decided to check out (of the hotel), and then we were in the finals and the guys were like, ‘Now what are we going to do, captain?’ Luckily we were able to get rooms at the same place.”

While all of the players have a deep competitive streak running through them, Linn said it is the fun of being together as a team that brings him back.

“I’ve always been a competitive person, especially when it comes to tennis,” Linn said. “We have always had such a good camaraderie since we have been playing together for so long. Most of us have played for 10 to 15 years, and we have played together for fun and for competition both with and against each other. We just enjoy being with each other.”

Herd agreed.

“Everybody goes down there focused and playing, but I was telling the guys this is one of the friendliest tournaments I have ever seen,” Herd said. “It was all good, hard-nosed competitive. You go down there with the idea of having fun, playing your best and see what happens.”

The women’s team didn’t have to worry about overcoming any stumbles out of the gate. The group went undefeated through pool play and swept Arkansas 3-0 to win the title.

“I was fortunate to have Nancy Crutchfield as my partner,” Ouzts said. “She is a strong, very consistent and always positive player. Nancy is the best at forcing opponents to make errors. She’s a great competitor, as were all the members of our team.”

Crutchfield said the two make a great team and everything came together perfectly for the team at the sectional event.  

“The stars were lined up right,” Crutchfield said. “We had lots of long, long matches and everyone just hung in there and persevered. Sharon is a lefty, so it is a little tricky playing as partners, but she is my closer. She rose to the occasion and put points away.”

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