We’re back at home after almost a month of straight travel – it’s been an amazing summer, one that is ending too soon since my son goes back to school on Monday.
I know I haven’t written much about our time in Florida, and I promise to get to that, too, but I want to share with y’all our experiences in SoCal while they’re still fresh in my memory (those of you who know me, know that is a very big deal, lol).
The planning for our SoCal excursion really began back in April when Craig Cignarelli and Lester Cook spoke to my son about spending time with them over the summer. My son was really excited about working with them and some of the college players they train, so we devised a summer tournament schedule that would allow for him to have plenty of time with them. However, things don’t always work out as planned, and our 12 days in SoCal wound up looking very different that what we envisioned.
We arrived at LAX early afternoon on a Thursday. My son had reached out to Craig and Lester to arrange time on the court, but neither of them were available until the following Monday. Okay. Time for Plan B.
Steve Bellamy, creator of the Tennis Channel and owner of the Palisades Tennis Center, came to my son’s rescue! He invited my son over to the tennis center to hit with one of his sons and some of the other kids training there. It was the perfect way for my son to jump-start the trip and to make some new tennis friends (and collect their phone numbers for future hits) in the area. The next day, the Bellamys invited us to their house for my son to hit with their son again. The boys played a couple of sets while the parents chatted – it was great! Afterward, we headed back to my mother-in-law’s house for a quick shower before heading down to Venice Beach to walk around and grab some lunch to celebrate my son’s 18th birthday. Of course, the weather was absolutely spectacular, and we had a ball people-watching down there!
Saturday morning was my son’s first taste of LiveBall at the Palisades Tennis Center (click here to read my post about that experience). He wound up spending the rest of the day hanging out with his cousin, Ethan, at the Third Street Promenade, walking around and doing whatever it is teenage boys like to do (I’ve learned NOT to ask too many questions!).
The next day, it was back to Pacific Palisades and the Bellamys for my son to hit with their oldest, Robbie, who plays for USC. My son later admitted that he was a little nervous about whether or not he would be able to hang with Robbie, but after a couple of minutes, both boys got into a groove and were smacking balls back and forth, running each other like crazy. While the boys played, the parents talked, and both Steve and his wife, Beth, shared some very valuable insights with us about the college recruiting process. Basically, as I’ve said before, these kids have to be proactive with the college coaches in order to get and stay on their radar. It’s a lesson my son seems to be learning pretty well so far, thankfully.
We found out later that afternoon that neither Craig nor Lester were going to be able to work with my son while we were there. It was okay, though, because they gave my son the phone numbers for several college players who were available to hit with him each day, so my son started texting them to set up his schedule for the week.
On Monday, we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara to see the UCSB campus and to meet with the head coach, Marty Davis. Omigosh, what a gorgeous place! Coach Davis spent almost two hours with us, taking us around the campus, showing us the tennis facilities, and explaining how he runs his program. It was a very productive day since it was the first of the California schools outside of LA that my son had visited. We were all very impressed.
We decided to sleep in Tuesday morning then headed to Playa del Rey for a quick visit to the Loyola Marymount University campus. The coach was running tennis camp so wasn’t available to meet, but we saw the courts and the gorgeous campus. Afterward, we drove to Marina del Rey to walk around before heading back to the Palisades Tennis Center for a quick hit with the kids preparing for National Hardcourts. Then it was a short drive to UCLA and the LA Tennis Center for my son to hit with team member Ryoto Tachi. Ryoto is one of the hardest working young men I’ve ever met! His parents live in Moscow, but the family is originally from Japan, and Ryoto moved to California by himself while in high school to train and prepare for college. He and my son spent a lot of time together over the next few days, hitting and talking about college and tennis and life in SoCal. Ryoto’s mom was in town visiting, so we all had dinner together Tuesday night at Sugarfish, a sushi restaurant highly recommended by UCLA Assistant Coach Grant Chen – it was delicious!
In keeping with our theme of college campus visits, Wednesday found us on the Pepperdine campus for my son to hit with team member Alex “Sasha” Solonin. Every time I step foot on that campus, I’m in awe of its beauty. It’s situated atop a hillside in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Because summer tennis camp was in session, the boys wound up playing on the lower courts while we sat on the steps staring at the water in the background. Wow! I actually left for a bit and went for a walk on the beach in hopes of catching a glimpse of the ocean-sides of some of the Malibu beach houses, but there’s a giant fence blocking access. Oh well. Late that afternoon, my son met Ryoto on the UCLA campus to work out at the gym while I visited with head coach Billy Martin back at the tennis center.
Thursday was another hit with Ryoto at UCLA. The boys started on the main courts but wound up moving to another set of courts near the dorms, so it was a great opportunity for my son to see another area of the campus. They played a couple of sets while Ryoto’s mom and I chatted about the challenges of having your child on the other side of the world. She comes to the States at least twice a year to visit him, and Ryoto gets home to Moscow and Tokyo once a year, but still – it’s a long way from home! I asked her how Ryoto decided to move to California to train and go to school, and she told me that it’s very difficult for athletes in Japan to develop in their sport while achieving academically – they typically have to choose between their sport or their education. The American college system offers a great opportunity to do both.
We headed back to the UCLA courts on Friday morning for one last hitting session with Ryoto. While the boys were on court, my husband and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather and went for a long walk around our alma mater. There have definitely been some changes on campus over the past 29 years! That night, we met up with Steve Bellamy for a late dinner in Malibu at Nobu and enjoyed some amazing food while overlooking the ocean – heaven!
The ITA Summer Circuit tournament at Cal State LA started on Saturday morning. Since my son didn’t really know anyone playing in the tourney, he was struggling to find a warm-up partner, but Steve came through for him and set up an early morning hit at his courts with Katie LaFrance who was there from Arkansas training at the tennis center. Apparently, Katie did a great job of getting my son ready for his match because he pulled out a tight one over the 7 seed in the first round then went on to win his second match 0 & 0! All the practice matches he had played during the week prepared him so well for his tournament opponents. He was definitely in Fight Mode out there! Those first two matches were played at Azusa Pacific University, about an hour northeast of where we were staying. The weather in the desert is much different than what we had been experiencing all week – it was incredibly hot (over 100 degrees on court) and dry with very little breeze and zero shade on the courts.
One of the highlights of Saturday was the fact that my son had a sizeable cheering section for his first match. My Facebook (and, now, real life) friend, Karl Rosenstock, was there to shoot some photos and videos of the tournament. Another Facebook friend and fellow tennis parent, Bobby Chacoin, brought his daughter Izzy out to watch, too. And my brother brought his two kids out as well. It was great to see everyone and for my son to hear their support throughout a tough first round.
The next day, my son had an early warmup at Cal State for his 3rd round match against the middle son of USC head coach Peter Smith. Unfortunately, Riley got the better of my kid that morning, but there were some very valuable take-aways from the match. Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes was at the tournament and watched my son play. Afterward, he and my son went out for lunch to discuss the match, some things my son can work on over the next few months, and the progress my son is making with his tennis and his college recruiting.
We were scheduled to fly home Monday afternoon but still had a couple of things to accomplish before we headed to the airport. We made one last drive up PCH to Malibu for my son to check in with Craig Cignarelli. We then hopped over to Pepperdine for my son to meet with newly-appointed head coach Marcelo Ferreira. Did I mention how gorgeous that campus is?!?!? Then, off to LAX for our flight home.
It was an incredible trip, one in which my son learned and grew as a player and a man. Each time we take one of these excursions, I realize how much tennis is giving him and how much it is helping him learn the lessons that will serve him so well the rest of his life.
Enjoy the photos!