Belen under-12 players gain experience at UTSA championship

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The Belen Eagles 12-and-under club tennis team was not supposed to be in the USTA Junior Team Tennis Sectional Championship tournament this past weekend at the Jerry Cline Tennis Center in Albuquerque. But they made the most of their opportunity, said coach Regina Grega.

The nine-player team finished third in their division of the USTA Southwest Section’s Northern New Mexico Regional Rally and were not slated to participate in the sectional championship this past Friday through Saturday.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE BELEN EAGLES 12-and-under tennis team cheers each other on before Saturday’s matches at the USTA Junior Team Tennis Sectional Championship Saturday in Albuquerque.

But when an Arizona team didn’t make it to the tournament, the Eagles stepped in, said Grega.

“We were the wild card,” she said. “The kids were so excited to be there, and they had so much parental support, it was great.”

Playing a short two-set, four-game, round-robin tournament format against two Albuquerque teams and one team from southern New Mexico, the Belen team came in fourth with 102 games won.

The TCA Rattlesnakes from Albuquerque placed first, with 219 games won, with the La Cueva Bears in second, with 171 games won, and the Las Cruces Chaos in third, winning 134 games.

The fourth-place finish does not illustrate how well the Eagles team — boys Xavier Castillo, Will Chavez, Josef Jaramillo, Trey Matheson, Zachary Sevilla; and girls Madisen Armjio , Gabriella Baca, Roma Cordova, Sydney Shawver — played in the three-day tournament.

“They were competitive,” Grega said. “They’re a tough bunch of little tennis players. Most of the games went to deuce, they just didn’t get the final win.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: Zach Sevilla, left, of the Belen 12-and-under club tennis team, awaits a serve while teammates Gabriella Baca, far left, and Sydney Shawver, right, play their doubles match on an adjacted court. The Eagles played in the USTA Sectional Championship in Albuquerque last Saturday.

“We had some inexperienced beginners on the team, but boy, they learned so much,” she said.

Chavez did especially well, winning three of four matches, losing one match on a tiebreaker.

Chavez, Troy Matheson and doubles partners Chavez and Zachary Savilla all pushed their doubles matches to tiebreakers, with Matheson and Savilla beating the team of Trevor Wayne Suggs and Parker Cunningham on Friday.

Shawver and Baca also were competitive, playing very well in their girls doubles matches, said Grega.

“Will Chavez, Josef Jaramillo and Troy Matheson, our three boys, played very well,” she said. “Madisen and Roma played their hearts out. Sydney and Gabriella also. Each one of them had highlights,” she said.

Grega said she was most impressed with her players’ poise during the tournament play.

“I’ve been coaching almost 30 years and I’ve seen kids who just fold,” she said. “But, every once in a while, you get a group like this. They didn’t fold. They just kept on fighting and did not give up.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: Will Chavez of the Belen 12-and-under club tennis team returns a shot during his singles match during the USTA Team Tennis Sectional Championship last Saturday at the Jerry Cline Tennis Complex in Albuquerque. Chavez won his match 4-0, 4-0.

While the Eagles came in fourth, Grega said the experience of playing, as well as watching older top-flight players over the weekend, was “invaluable.”

“They learned so much and saw the competitiveness of these other teams and just hung right on,” she said. “They weren’t bothered one bit. It was a great learning experience for them and their parents. They were very engaged in their matches and supported each other It was wonderful to have them there,” she said.