Greenwich group helps Spin Offs reach new heights

Members of the Spin Offs 3.5-rated women’s tennis team shows off its banner after winning the USTA New England White District championship earlier this month in Ludlow, Mass. From left is Tammy Grimes, Dina Weinstein, Kathy Loucks, Oksana Mikhailova, Jennifer Landry Le, Katharina Lewis, coach Jacques Du Toit, Malyn Sheridan, Heather Rice, Eliana Carson, Joy Casciano and Sandra Harris. Missing from the photo are Anne Castine, Kathleen Gilston, Kim Schweber, Elisabeth Hutchins and Angelika Seebacher.

Members of the Spin Offs 3.5-rated women’s tennis team shows off its banner after winning the USTA New England White District championship earlier this month in Ludlow, Mass. From left is Tammy Grimes, Dina Weinstein, Kathy Loucks, Oksana Mikhailova, Jennifer Landry Le, Katharina Lewis, coach Jacques Du Toit, Malyn Sheridan, Heather Rice, Eliana Carson, Joy Casciano and Sandra Harris. Missing from the photo are Anne Castine, Kathleen Gilston, Kim Schweber, Elisabeth Hutchins and Angelika Seebacher.

After capturing the USTA New England White District championship earlier this month, a team comprised of eight Greenwich women tennis players had quite the summer season.

The Spin Offs, a USTA 3.5-rated team based at Grand Slam Tennis Club in Bedford, N.Y., traveled to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. earlier this month, along with the winners of the other three New England districts.

At stake is a trip to the USTA League Tennis national championships Oct. 24-26 in Tucson, Ariz.

During this year’s New England tournament, the Spin Offs went 2-1 overall and finished second overall in the tournament. Individually in the tournament, the Spin Offs finished 8-7.

The Spin Offs reached the New England finals for the first time last year, but just missed advancing to nationals.

The experience that the team picked up during last year’s tournament paid off this time around.

“The team’s much stronger than we were last year, and a lot more experienced. (We’re) just better, because we have been practicing all year,” said Malyn Sheridan of Pound Ridge, N.Y., who has been the team’s captain since its founding in 2010.

The Spin Offs include eight players from Greenwich: Katharina Lewis, Tammy Grimes, Dina Weinstein, Jennifer Landry Le, Elisabeth Hutchins, Sandra Harris, Angelika Seebacher and Anne Castine.

Other players are Joy Casciano and Kathleen Gilston of Somers, N.Y.; Kathy Loucks of White Plains, N.Y.; Oksana Mikhailova of Brewster, N.Y.; Kim Schweber of Stamford; and Heather Rice and Eliana Carson of South Salem, N.Y.

“We’re all from different backgrounds but when we are together, we all have the common bond of tennis,” said Rice, the team’s co-captain. “It’s just a great bunch of girls and everybody works very hard, and we’re having a blast.”

The Spin Offs’ success is impressive considering that no one on the team has much experience playing tennis. Sheridan, who has only been playing for five years, is the most experienced player.

“The majority of the girls all started late in life. I didn’t pick up a tennis racquet until five years ago. All of us are in the same boat,” said Rice. “Once you get bitten by the bug, you just want to keep improving.”

That drive and competitiveness is something all the players share.

“We’re intensely competitive, so we’ve been working hard to improve,” said Sheridan. “The team is very tenacious, and we like to win.”

In USTA League Tennis, competitions are decided by best of five matches, with two singles matches and three doubles matches. Teams first play a regular season in their own league — in the Spin Offs’ case, the Southern Connecticut League. Teams then advance to the White District tournament (covering Southern Connecticut, Western Massachusetts and Vermont), and the winner there goes onto sectionals.

A year ago, in its second year with Grand Slam (the team played out of the Saw Mill Club its first two years), the Spin Offs had their best season, winning their first district title. At sectionals (which unlike districts, are held outdoors), they finished third, losing to the eventual champ by one match.

“We were a little bit inexperienced. The matches were outside. It was a lot getting used to the heat and the intensity of the competition,” said Sheridan.

Despite the loss of three players who couldn’t stay because their rating was bumped up to 4.0, the Spin Offs were determined to get back to sectionals this year.

“We were a little bit worried, but everybody has improved their game,” said Sheridan.

“Some of us who had played at a lower level had to step it up,” Rice said.

The team and its coach, Jacques Du Toit, began practicing right after the loss at sectionals last August, and then won its winter league with an 11-1 record to qualify for the district tourney.

Thanks to its performance the previous season, the team had the chance to take on five 4.0-rated teams, going 1-4 but taking its opponent to three sets in three of the losses.

“That was a huge accomplishment for us and we were able to learn from the better players,” said Rice.

The district tournament was held earlier this month in Ludlow, Mass., with five matches over three days. Although they finished the tourney unbeaten, the Spin Offs had to dig deep. In round-robin play, they eked out three 3-2 wins, and then held off the Sport and Wellness Terminators (Danbury) in the semifinals, 3-2.

“It was very close in all of them. At districts, all of the teams are very strong and the teams were very evenly matched,” Sheridan said. “We won a lot of the matches on super tiebreakers. It was very exciting.”

In the semifinal win, all three wins by the Spin Offs went to third-set super tiebreakers — with Rice and Carson rallying for a 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 win at first doubles, Lewis holding on for a win at second singles, 7-5, 4-6, 1-0, and the team of Grimes and Le also coming back to win at second doubles, 4-6, 6-4, 1-0.

In the district championship match, the Spin Offs beat the Weston Racquet Club Fear Factor, 4-1, in another tight match. The team got three-set wins from Rice and Carson at first doubles (6-4, 5-7, 1-0) and Grimes and Le at third doubles (6-2, 3-6, 1-0), in addition to straight-set wins from Mikhailova at first singles and Loucks at second singles.

Also seeing action at the district tourney in doubles were Sheridan, Casciano, Gilston, Weinstein, Harris and Hutchins.

Exemplifying the team’s toughness is Lewis, who played four matches (three singles, one doubles) at the district tourney despite a torn hip flexor. She plans to take a red-eye flight from California later this week to play at sectionals.

“That’s the kind of commitment we have here,” said Rice “We’re a very determined bunch of ladies. “We all have families. We have to move mountains. For mom to disappear for four days in August, it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”

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