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USTA Georgia
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For Eastern squad, experience is worth the sacrifice

November 5, 2016 09:21 PM

By Cory Kamerschak, special to USTA.com

SURPRISE, ARIZ. – It’s not always true that the experience will be worth the sacrifice, but for the Eastern section mixed doubles team at the USTA League 40 & Over 6.0 and 8.0 National Championships in Surprise, the struggle has been worth it.

The team is from Buffalo, N.Y., and calls itself “More Snowballs.” The majority of the team has been together since 2010 and are also on an 18 & Over team, so they’ve had plenty of on-court time together. However, they hadn’t made it to Nationals before and decided they were going to do whatever it took to get here.

Sylvia Spellman, 56, had been working with a tennis pro to help improve her game in the hopes of being invited onto a League team. The hard work payed off and she was asked to join More Snowballs. Over the past few years, she continued to work hard in order to earn an opportunity to come to Nationals

“I’ve wanted to get here forever, to say that I made it to Nationals at least one time in my life,” said Spellman. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get this opportunity again so it just means the world to me.”

Spellman’s mixed doubles partner, Chris Less, has been with the team for four years. He praised the level of tennis from the teams competing this weekend in Surprise.

“To see the quality of play across the USTA from all of the different regions has been a big learning experience,” said Less. “It’s really eye opening.”

Spellman also noted that the weekend has been physically demanding because the team could only bring three women with them on the trip, meaning they’ve had to play in every single match without a break.

The captain of the team, Udeme Ukutt, is not eligible to compete here due to his age (36) but still decided to come out and offer support.

“We are like a family, so I told my wife that I wanted to be here to support the team even if I couldn’t actually play,” said Ukutt.

Another member of the team, Harold Wickline, is risking missing a work conference in Nashville to be here. He will have to fly directly to Nashville on Sunday afternoon and the team could potentially be in the finals during that time.

“I’d miss my flight and the first day of the conference to play,” said Wickline. “But how can you possibly say no to Nationals? Less than one percent of the USTA League population makes it here.”

Regardless of the outcome, the experience has been worth every sacrifice along the way for this tennis family from Buffalo.