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Universal Tennis Junior National Pathway Road to Nationals (Part 4)

The inaugural Universal Tennis Junior Nationals and College Showcase are now in the rearview – what a phenomenal 5 days of Junior Tennis! (To read my earlier articles on the Pathway, click here to read Part 1, click here to read Part 2, and click here to read Part 3.) I had the pleasure of attending both the Showcase and Championships and can’t wait to share my thoughts with you.

Let’s start with the College Showcase . . . as mentioned in previous articles in this series, the Showcase was scheduled to coincide with the ITA Annual Coaches Convention to make it easy for the college coaches to come watch current high school age players in action. Since COVID has dramatically impacted the coaches’ travel budgets at most colleges and universities, it was great to see Universal Tennis step up and create this unique opportunity for both the players and coaches.

But the college coaches weren’t just there to watch tennis. They also participated in Q&A discussions led by Darling’s Brian Wilson with parents and players. Universal Tennis worked hard to get coaches from a variety of divisions and types of programs to participate in these educational sessions. We heard from Chris Young of Oklahoma State, Grant Chen of SMU, Chase Hodges of Georgia Gwinnett, and Sophie Whittle of Gonzaga. I also had the opportunity to do a presentation with Brian to help parents (and players!) understand what they need to do to have a successful college recruiting experience. You can find these Q&As on our Instagram along with some impromptu interviews with other college coaches, players, and even Martin Blackman from USTA Player Development.

On Day 2 of the Showcase, the ITA held some of its sessions on site at Darling Tennis Center which meant the presence of several coaches at the final rounds of the Showcase competition. I had the opportunity to speak with several college coaches who loved the idea of combining their own Convention with the chance to see these junior players in action. From the players’ point of view, many said they were playing in front of college coaches for the first time but welcomed the opportunity to show the coaches what they are made of!

The Showcase was run as a co-ed team event with participants playing singles then doubles with a variety of partners within their team. Teams were created using a waterfall system based on UTR. The top player in the event had a UTR of 11.13 and the lowest-rated player came in at 6.64. You can see all team make-ups here. A big congratulations to all the players for showing great effort and even better sportsmanship out there! The photo at the top of the page is the perfect example of what this event was all about: the three players pictured did not know each other prior to coming to the Showcase but have become fast friends as a result of being teammates in Las Vegas. I saw evidence of similar friendships being formed all around the grounds. It’s what Junior Tennis is supposed to be, right?

Most of the Showcase participants also played in the Junior National Championships which started on Sunday morning bright and early. Players qualified for the Championships by winning their regional event OR by entering as an at-large applicant. Draws were done in a round robin format which meant every player was guaranteed at least 3 matches. The top finishers in each round robin group moved onto the Playoff rounds which meant an additional 2 matches, all of which were livestreamed and recorded as were all Showcase matches. For players in both events, they could come away from the 5 days with 10 matches to review and use as learning and recruiting opportunities – that’s a game-changer!

One thing that set these National Championships apart was the chance to play for wildcards into future Universal Tennis Professional Tennis Tour (PTT) prize money tournaments. The PTT events are a phenomenal testing ground for junior players who aspire to play College Tennis or go on to play professionally. Here’s how the wildcards were awarded:

17U Wild Cards:
Winner: 3 Main Draw Wild Cards
Finalist: 2 Main Draw Wild Cards
Semifinalists: 1 Main Draw Wild Card

15U Wild Cards:
Winner: 1 Main Draw Wild Cards
Finalist: 1 Main Draw Wild Cards

The atmosphere on site was very positive, and the feedback I received from players, parents, and coaches was indicative of the need for more events like this one. Universal Tennis (and the Darling Tennis Center) did an amazing job of making the players and parents feel like this was something special, not your ordinary junior tennis tournament. From professional signage throughout the venue to vendor tents (ParentingAces among them!) to Parent Education and complimentary lunch and dinner during the Showcase, you knew you were at a premier event, and everyone on site acknowledged as much. I hope other tournament directors take a look at what Universal Tennis accomplished in Las Vegas and plan their own tournaments with a new vision. I know Universal Tennis is planning to expand on these events in 2022, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like for the players as well as the parents moving forward.

As mentioned above, all matches from the Showcase and Championships were livestreamed and are housed permanently at https://web.track.tennis/events/feed?account=junior-national-pathway#/. What a great development and recruiting tool for the participants – they can go through their matches with their junior coach to see what went well and what needs more work AND they can share their matches with the college coaches who might not have been able to watch them on site. In my opinion, having all matches streamed and recorded was the biggest differentiator of these events and one I hope to see at more junior tournaments moving forward.

A huge thank you to Universal Tennis and Darling Tennis Center for inviting me to participate in the SoCal Regionals as well as the Showcase and Championships – Matt, Brian, Nina, Yma, Pearson, Reece, and Ethan worked so hard to make sure every single player had a positive experience throughout the Pathway Series. What a fantastic way to end 2021!

FINAL SHOWCASE TEAM STANDINGS:

1st Place: Team 3
2nd Place: Team 4
3rd Place: Team 2
4th Place: Team 8
5th Place: Team 5
6th Place: Team 7
7th Place: Team 6
8th Place: Team 1

JUNIOR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS RESULTS:

Boys 17U Champion: Nico Jamison 11.11 (At-Large entrant)

Boys 17U Finalist: Brendan Boland 11.13 (At-Large entrant)

Girls 17U Champion: Jeselle Ante 8.85 (At-Large entrant)

Girls 17U Finalist: Lauren Joyce 8.63 (NorCal/PNW Regional Winner)

Boys 15U Champion: Oumar Diallo 10.55 (FL Regional Winner)

Boys 15U Finalist: Ian Uraga 9.91 (At-Large entrant)

Girls 15U Champion: Nicole Weng 8.64 (SoCal Regional Winner)

Girls 15U Finalist: Campbell Ricci 8.66 (At-Large entrant)

 

 

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