This is Mid-Atlantic Tennis: Hunter Koontz

This post is part of a series that tell the stories of how tennis has influenced people’s lives in the Mid-Atlantic Section and how lives are positively shaped by tennis. Just a few weeks ago, stand-out Mid-Atlantic player Hunter Koontz made his professional tennis tournament debut at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. And while this was a momentous moment, what’s more impressive is how he is influencing lives on and off the court too.

If you talk to diehard tennis fans about the Citi Open, a professional tennis tournament in Washington D.C., and ask them their favorite time to go to the event, most will say the first weekend. I’m sure you’re asking yourself “but why?”  That’s simple: The first Saturday and Sunday of the event, professional ATP and WTA players are walking the grounds freely to their practice courts (tip: snag those autographs and selfies!) and you can watch local players grinding it out to get one step closer to the Main Draw.

And such was the case for Richmond native, Hunter Koontz. You may know him as a top ranked junior player in Mid-Atlantic or stand out player at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA), but at Citi Open on Sunday, July 29, Koontz was leaving it all out on the court battling France’s Vincent Millots (11) in Round 1 of Men’s Qualifying.

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Mid-Atlantic standout, Hunter Koontz serves during his first professional tennis tournament appearance

A set down, the second set got tighter and the cheers got louder. In the stands were Koontz’s former high school teammates from Deep Run High School (Richmond, VA), friends from Virginia Tech, fellow Richmond natives, and the loudest of all – Country Club of Virginia members. Koontz, an Assistant Tennis Pro at the Country Club of Virginia, noted “a few of the CCV members were really bringing the fire with the cheering which really meant a lot to me.”  Obviously Koontz has played hundreds of tennis matches in his lifetime, but this one in particular gave him a little extra energy to take the second set with all of the support in the stands.

Blaine Davies, a former high school tennis teammate at Deep Run, was in the stands living every point with Koontz. “The coolest part of watching Hunter play was that I know it had to be inspiring for any Richmond kids in the crowd to see someone from our area competing at a professional tennis tournament.”  To that point, Koontz hopes he can inspire the juniors he works with at CCV to reach their tennis goals and cultivate the next generation of greats in his hometown. Working with CCV Head of Junior Tennis, Mason Wright, Koontz focuses on junior league play and game-planning clinics to help youth excel on and off the court.

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Koontz inspiring the next generation of tennis greats, signing autographs for young fans

While Koontz couldn’t hold off Millots in the third set he was “happy those that came to support got to see a fun match with some exciting points” at his first professional tennis tournament.

Davies, who recently joined the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section staff as a recreation programs assistant, was smiling ear to ear as Koontz walked off that court. “What sticks out for me the most is how lucky I was growing up playing tennis in Richmond. Hunter was such a supportive teammate; he created a strong team culture and helped everyone improve.” Koontz may not realize the impact he has made in his local community with each individual he has come across on the tennis court. Luckily, when asked about his five year plan, Koontz responded “I would like to think I will be in Richmond teaching tennis and helping as many people as I can.” Also on the agenda is marrying his fiancé, Madison, in June 2019. “Things could look a lot different in five years. Perhaps I will have started to work on Hunter Jr.’s hand-eye coordination by then…”

Play Tennis This Fall in Northern Virginia – Try Combo Mixed!

If it has been a while since you have played USTA Leagues in Northern Virginia or if you have been playing tennis recreationally and want to ease into more organized play, USTA Mid-Atlantic has the perfect solution for Northern Virginia players – NOVA Combo!

The NOVA Combo Mixed League is a USTA League offering in the Mid-Atlantic Section for players age 18 and older that want to play doubles and have fun playing tennis in the Northern Virginia area! This fall, Combo will be offered in coed teams and in team NTRP levels of 6.5, 7.5, and 8.5.

In the NOVA Combo League:

  • Players of different abilities can partner up and play together (up to a 1.5 differential)
  • Partners can combine ratings to equal the team’s rating
    • For example in the 7.5 level of Combo, a player with a 3.5 rating can partner with a 4.0 player.
  • Teams can advance to a Regional Championship
  • Emphasis is on a social and fun experience – join in the action with some friends or get connected to a team and make some new ones! Just like tennis is a lifetime sport, tennis friends are friends you will have for life.
  • League play starts September 15

There are five steps to get started playing in the NOVA Combo league:

Step 1: Renew or join USTA as a member

As a USTA Member, you’ll not only get more involved in the game you love, but you’ll enjoy many perks. You’ll get discounts on US Open merchandise, travel, entertainment and more. You’ll get early access to tickets and discounted seats and top tournaments. And you’ll have the chance to play in recreational leagues – such as NOVA Combo – and tournaments in the Mid-Atlantic and nationwide.

Step 2: Get your NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) up-to-date

NTRP ratings are used to identify and describe characteristics of tennis-playing ability and help you understand which level you should play at based on a variety of factors. New players can self-rate to obtain an NTRP rating (please note that a USTA Account is needed to obtain a self-rating). You can also contact Cassie Nocera, at the USTA Mid-Atlantic office to help you through this process.

Step 3: Find a NOVA Combo team

The best way to find a NOVA Combo Mixed team is to contact the Local League Ambassador, Alice Hume. Local League Ambassadors are champions for USTA Adult Leagues in the Mid-Atlantic. Alice works day-to-day to coordinate league play and ensure seasons run smoothly. She is currently forming teams for NOVA Combo Mixed league play, so now is the best time to contact her to get on a team.

Step 4: Register for your team

Once you find your team, you can go to USTA’s TennisLink site to register online for the season.

Step 5: Grab your tennis racquet and hit the courts

Get your racquet in shape – check those strings and overgrip – and head out to your favorite tennis courts to get ready to play. The NOVA Combo Mixed League season will start on Sept. 15. Your team captain will be in touch with you about matches, when and where you will be playing and other opportunities to get together with your team.

If you have other questions or need help, contact Cassie Nocera or email leagues@mas.usta.com. You can also browse other Leagues happening in the Mid-Atlantic on the USTA Mid-Atlantic league calendar available here.

Why You Need a Weekend Getaway with your Tennis Team

One of the best parts of playing USTA League tennis in the Mid-Atlantic is the friends that you make. These are people that rally for you and cheer you on both on the court and throughout the ups and downs that life throws your way. For many, their tennis team is like family with a bond that has been built from grinding it out during tough tennis matches and from the memorable times spent off the court. Those are the special times together thanks to your love of tennis such as traveling to tournaments, championships or even National events. 

But not every team gets the chance to travel to a Regional or Section championship. That’s why USTA Mid-Atlantic partnered with the Roanoke Valley Tennis Association to create Second Serve to give more teams, especially women’s teams,  the chance to hit the road for fun on court competition against teams from all over the Mid-Atlantic and off court laughs. 

We chatted with Yoshie Nahmens, a current 4.0 who has been playing USTA Leagues for more than ten years, to get her take on the fun of traveling with your tennis team. Yoshie is an active captain in Fairfax, Virginia having captained more than ten teams in the last three years and plays on a variety of others leagues in Northern Virginia.

Girls Getaway - Yoshie Photo 1_350x250What has been your favorite girls’ weekend tennis memory?

This is a tough one since I have had several fun memories that picking just one is a challenge. I would probably say my 3.0/3.5/4.0 team’s win at the 2017 Tri-Level League Sectionals since we were not able to compete to defend our title last year. We were #1 in the local league but lost in the first round of local league playoffs. All matches were very tight and nail biters, so this win was extra sweet and special.

We’ve created so many great friendships off the court through our teams over the years that we’ve created our own weekend getaways. Eleven of us participated in a Wintergreen tennis camp a few years ago. We rented a huge house, cooked all our meals together (it was a cold, rainy & foggy April weekend, so we couldn’t go anywhere), danced, talked and crashed. It was my first ‘tennis camp’ and I loved it. I hope a group of us can go to another tennis camp in the near future. It was so much fun!

How has travelling for tennis been a bonding experience for the ladies on your teams?

We drive 3 hours+ to get to most Region and Section Championships so we usually carpool. Our team also shares hotel room to split the cost and spend more time together.  During travel and stay, we talk about family, kids, vacation, etc. So much quality bonding time – it has been great.

What’s your team’s favorite thing to do off the tennis court when you’re travelling together?Girls Getaway - Series 1 - Photo 2_sized

I normally set up our team dinner on one of the nights when we travel to Regionals and/or Sectionals. Many of our team knows each other pretty well, but it is always fun to get together over great food and great wine (typically) and enjoy lots of laughs. Girls can be girls. It’s the most relaxed moment before the battle on the court.

Team-bonding, beautiful hikes, tasty breweries, late-night laughs, sing-along car rides and heck, maybe even that perfect, “down-the-T” serve will show up on your weekend in the Roanoke Valley at Second Serve, so gather up your tennis girls and let us know you are interested in playing in the inaugural event!  


USTA Mid-Atlantic and the Roanoke Valley Tennis Association are introducing Second Serve, a highly social team competition that has the look of a league championship with teams from all over the Mid-Atlantic competing, but in a fun, low-pressure environment. Second Serve will take place in Roanoke, Va. Teams from the Adult 18 & Over women’s leagues at 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 NTRP levels are eligible to participate in Second Serve. Play will count toward your NTRP rating, but there is no advancement.  Click here to learn more about the event! 

Wimbledon Today, Zonals Tomorrow; Othmane Garma Does It All

We got the chance to chat with Sloane Stephens’ traveling tour coach and USTA Mid-Atlantic’s Othmane Garma, also known as “OG.” Since Garma joined her team 13 months ago, she’s had her most significant results ever. The 25-year-old won her first-ever Grand Slam at the 2017 US Open and, was runner-up at the French Open. While that is impressive, what’s really stand-out is that Garma doesn’t just coach pros. His passion for the game spills into youth tennis as well.

Othmane Garma remembers idolizing professional players and coaches as a 10-year-old kid. Coming to the United States from Morocco at 14 years old, he had two goals in mind: learn English well enough to make friends and earn a full scholarship to a Division I school for tennis. Luckily, J.E.B. Stuart’s high school tennis coach James Holocombe took Garma under his wing, and made both a reality.

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Coach Othmane Garma is making an impact through tennis both with pro players and Mid-Atlantic Juniors alike

“I’ve been very fortunate to have the right voices around me and good people around me that want to see me develop as not only a tennis player but a human being,” said Garma, who grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. “Holocombe helped me learn English and do homework, drove me to tennis lessons, and he saw my passion for tennis.”

Garma had offers from George Mason, Howard, South Florida, and UNC Wilmington but knew he wanted to stay close to the D.C. area that gave him so much. He chose Howard, hoping to play on the ATP tour afterward. But after six months, he realized he didn’t have the financial resources to play professionally, so he turned to coaching.

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Coach Murray Kamau, Sloane Stephens and Coach Othmane Garma

He worked with as many as 40 players a week and generated approximately $110,000 for the Arlington YMCA Tennis Center. He moved on to coaching top juniors and was so successful, he advanced to working with professionals.

One of them was Treat Huey, a University of Virginia graduate who would eventually partner with Max Mirnyi.

“Traveling on the ATP world tour with Othmane helped me have the best season of my career, reaching the Wimbledon semifinals and qualifying for the ATP world tour finals,” Huey said. “His positive attitude was instrumental in the improvement I’ve had in my game.”

Huey and Mirnyi were a top 20 team under Garma, but that didn’t prepare him for the heights he’s attained coaching Sloane Stephens, ranked No. 4 in the world.

“I never pictured in my entire life that I would be holding a U.S. Open trophy as a coach,” said Garma, who works alongside Murray Kamau on Stephens’ team. “Everybody did their role. I was super grateful to be able to see her reach the success she deserves and for me and Coach Kamau, it was a proud moment.”

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Garma and Stephens after victory at the U.S. Open

When Stephens won the U.S. Open last September, she was ranked 83rd, the lowest ranked woman to ever win the title and the first American since 2002.

“Coach Othmane has been a great addition to our team, and his positive approach to everything he does makes him an incredible asset,” Stephens said.

 

 

While Garma continues to thrive as a coach, he’s sticking true to his roots by staying involved in the Mid-Atlantic. At the end of July, Garma will put his pro coaching career on pause and travel to Cary, North Carolina to coach the Mid-Atlantic team at the USTA Southern Zonals. He’ll be working with elite boys and girls, in a format that allows Garma to coach on court during the matches — something he’s looking forward to.

“I’m super excited and really looking forward to connecting with the kids and being able to give back,” Garma said. “I want to inspire them and teach them through experience.”

Talking to Garma, you’ll often hear him use the word “inspire,” along with “motivate” and “create.” In his eyes, those three words strung together are what life is about. Those words are why he’ll be traveling to coach 14-year-olds in the same month that he’s coaching Stephens at Wimbledon.

“I don’t look at it as I’m coaching an amateur or a professional; it’s about delivering the same message in 100 ways depending on the person,” Garma said. “I’m coaching an athlete to be the best they can be and it’s still around tennis.”

While Garma continues to influence the Mid-Atlantic and the WTA tour, life just gave him another opportunity to have an even bigger impact. On June 13th, his wife, Gabriela Falcon, gave birth to their first child, Skyla Jolie Garma.

“I am so excited to introduce baby Skyla to the sport that has done so much for me as soon as she hits the age of 3,” said Garma. “It’ll be her decision to choose what sport she loves and I’ll support her with all the resources I have and more.”


Harry Holtzclaw is an intern with USTA Mid-Atlantic. Harry is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Sports and Recreation Management from James Madison University.

 

 

TGA: A Game Changer for Mid-Atlantic Kids

When you first walk in to the school gym it hits you – the sounds of laughter, fun, and excitement with a distinct buzz of energy. You hear kids happily shouting to a friend, “ok, your turn to hit it to me now!”  As you scan the room, you see faces with smiles that are contagious, and others deep in skillful concentration. There is action everywhere controlled by the coaches in the room that are in the middle of it all, encouraging and guiding the students through their activities.

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This is what you see at a typical TGA Premier Youth Tennis after school program in the Mid-Atlantic.  What you may not see right away though is how this program is changing and benefiting lives – not just through physical activity that all kids need, but through the life lessons the kids are learning and enrichment they are getting through STEM activities too. Review the stats on the impact the program is having, and one can understand why this is a game changer for kids and the sport of tennis in the Mid-Atlantic.

USTA Mid-Atlantic has been offering TGA Premier Youth tennis after school and out-of-school time programs since 2016. In 2017, nearly 4,000 kids in communities across Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia were given the chance to learn tennis and develop personal qualities such as respect, honesty, decision-making and sportsmanship. These kids come from all types of communities – notably, 37 percent of the schools where programs are established service under resourced communities where at least 50 percent of the student population is enrolled in the National Free or Reduced Meal Program.

For some, especially those in under resourced communities, having this type of enrichment program accessible to them is a rarity. This is why USTA Mid-Atlantic is so committed to bringing the program to all types of communities to ensure that kids have a chance to learn tennis, build friendships, develop life skills and play.

We want to reach even more kids and offer these programs at little to no cost to every school in the Mid-Atlantic, but we need your help.

With our spring programs wrapped up and summer programs in action, we are making strong progress to introduce kids to tennis and break down the barriers that get in the way. We need you to help us keep the momentum going and ensure the impact and positive change doesn’t stop.

Here are just some highlights of what we’ve done so far in 2018 in a few of our program areas.

West Virginia

Our TGA after school tennis programs in West Virginia service some of the most under resourced communities, with programs taking place in schools where 100 percent of the student body qualifies for the National Free or Reduced Meal Program. We hit a record of having more than 300 children participating in one season and this spring, 15 scholarships were distributed. Be a game changer and help ensure more kids can get active and play.

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Prince William County, Va.

Prince William is one of our newest areas to offer tennis enrichment programs and one of the most economically diverse as well. The program achieved 300 percent growth for participation compared to the fall 2017 season and awarded more than $800 in scholarships so kids can play. Be a game changer and help us make tennis the most accessible sport in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Loudoun County, Va.

One of our original program areas, students participating in after school and out-of-school time programs are seeing their dedication pay off. Our TGA programs allow players to progress through a five-level color coded path at their own pace. They start at yellow and work toward black level which indicates a strong level of awareness and understanding of the game as well as demonstrated leadership among peers. This spring, two kids participated at the black level which is a first for the Mid-Atlantic. Be a game changer and help us put more kids on the path to success.

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Richmond, Va.

In Richmond, TGA programs were offered at Bensley Elementary which the most economically disadvantaged school in Chesterfield County, servicing a school population with 86 percent qualifying for the National Free or Reduced Meals Program. At this school we were able to award 16 partial scholarships to participants. Be a game changer and help us ensure all kids no matter their background, location, resources, access or ability precludes them from learning the sport of tennis.

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This is just a start; think of what could happen if you help us do even more

Will you help us make it possible for one more child to experience playing tennis? With every gift, USTA Mid-Atlantic moves one step closer to our vision of bringing tennis to all young people and communities in the Mid-Atlantic and breaking down barriers to entry and play.  Make a tax-deductible gift today to support a new player in the game, one who can champion the sport for others for a lifetime.

If you want to learn more about how USTA Mid-Atlantic is making an impact as a charitable 501(c)3 non-profit, visit www.usta.com/midatlanticimpact and continue to visit our blog for inspiring stories of our tennis community.