EASTHAM — The Outer Cape Stripers, the men’s tennis team normally based at Willy’s Gym in Eastham, won the United States Tennis Association 65-and-over national invitational tournament over the Feb. 8-9 weekend.
The tournament, held in Orlando, Fla., featured the winning teams from USTA championship tournaments in 17 regions across the U.S. The Stripers represented New England.
Captain Jim Bisceglia’s team included David Bernstein, Henry Brehm, Bill Dugan, John Gauthier, Jerry Haigh, David Kenney, Tom LaTanzi, Russ Sandblom, Chad Small, and Peter Weinman.
A random draw at the beginning of the tournament determined the schedule in which each team played four matches. After that round, teams were seeded based on their records and played single-elimination matches until one team was crowned champion.
“We had a tough draw,” said Bisceglia. “Two of our four first-round opponents, Florida and Middle States, made the semis with a combined record of 7-1.”
The first turning point of the championship came in the fourth match of the first round, when the Stripers faced the Middle States champions from Princeton, N.J., who were 3-0 at that point. The Stripers needed to win to qualify for the semifinals — and they did.
In the semifinals the Stripers faced the undefeated Florida team that had beaten them in the first round, and this time they prevailed.
In the finals, the local men were up against the Princeton team again, which had defeated a team from Georgia in the semifinals. The ultimate victory came in a tie-break, with the Stripers winning 10-8 to take two of three sets.
“Everyone on the team had a clutch win at some point,” said Bisceglia, “but the constant was the pair of Peter Weinman and Chad Small, who won all three critical matches and went 6-0 for the tournament.”
The Stripers proved themselves in more ways than one. Not only did the team make a dramatic comeback in the tournament, it managed to win a national championship after not having a home court to practice on for the last two months, because Willy’s has been closed since mid-December. The team was forced to travel to Yarmouth to practice.
Bisceglia praised his players for their “total commitment to practicing and to the team-first concept.”
This was just the Stripers’ fifth year competing. For the last three years, the team has won the New England sectionals and advanced to the USTA national tournament. The team finished third at nationals in Surprise, Ariz., in 2017.
“I am very proud of our Stripers,” said Barbara Healey, USTA coordinator for Cape Cod. “Jim and his team have worked over the past several years developing a team that could go the whole way.”
The deciding match of the tournament featured Dave Bernstein and Jerry Haigh. When the two won their tie-break, the entire team and its fans rushed the court.
“To say that we were on cloud nine after that final match would be an understatement,” Bisceglia said.
“What made the experience so special was that every one of our teammates who was called upon to win a match, with no margin for error, delivered,” Bernstein said. “So sharing the victory was that much sweeter.
“Tennis on Cape Cod has brought so much joy to all of us, fostering friendships that will endure,” he went on. “Our late dear coach, Joe Abbott, is responsible for introducing many of us to each other and teaching us how to play the game the right way — and to not take the game or ourselves too seriously.”