Three years ago, a local United States Tennis Association league team captained by Sarah Rahrig made the journey to the USTA campus in Orlando, Florida, to compete in the USTA Mixed Doubles League National Championship.
Despite possessing quality players throughout the team's roster, the group had a tough time competing with something out of their control during their time in the spotlight – the younger competitors of the 18-and-over tournament.
“We didn't fare very well,” team member Scott Lunsford said with a laugh. “But we played against some good teams, saw some great tennis, had a great time and really enjoyed ourselves. It's just a little harder to compete with players that are fresh out of college or still in college.”
Lunsford, Rahrig and the rest of Team Rahrig will once again make the trip to the USTA campus in Orlando this month for the same competition, but on a different scale.
The Midwest Section title-winners of the 40-and-over league defeated teams from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin to qualify again for the nationals, on Nov. 14-17.
“I've played USTA tennis for about 30 years now and this is only my second time going to nationals, so everything needs to align right because something like this doesn't happen very often,” Rahrig said. “We all make it a pretty big priority when it's something we can go to and participate in.”
Rahrig, along with husband Jerry, have used the familiarity with fellow players such as Lunsford at Wildwood Racquet Club to build a cohesive unit on and off the courts.
“We've all enjoyed playing tennis together and, on top of that, whether it's during matches or hanging out together after matches, we've known each other for a while,” Rahrig said. “We're all really looking forward to it.”
Lunsford, who was more than thankful to receive the invitation to join Team Rahrig a few years ago, credited his previous friendship with Rahrig prior to becoming teammates once more.
“We've all known each other for about 10, 15 years,” Lunsford said. “I've known Sarah for a long time from playing on previous teams together, and I was thankful that Sarah thought of me when she asked me if I wanted to join the team.”
Along with his friendships through Wildwood, Lunsford said his previous experience at the same national event in Orlando over a decade prior and his father Steve – a successful USTA player in his own right – were two key parts to his ever-improving game that started following the conclusion of his baseball career in college.
“There's a lot of similarities between baseball and tennis,” Lunsford said.
“Once I started, I've loved it. It's a great sport. It takes two hours and you get a great workout. You meet some great people, and I still feel like I'm learning and getting better.
“With mixed doubles, you're playing with a partner and when I'm playing, I'm usually playing with Michelle (Galassini) or Sarah or Sally (Smithley), and they've all got extensive experience and background in tennis,” Lunsford said.
“I feel like I can learn from them and their games. I play with a bit more confidence because they know what they're doing and it helps me feel like I don't have to hit a perfect shot all the time and just play my game.”
At a glance
What: USTA League Mixed Doubles Championship (40 and over)
When: Nov. 14-17
Where: USTA National Campus, Orlando, Fla.
Team members: Sarah Rahrig (team captain), Michelle Galassini, Toma Hainline, Scott Lunsford, Natasha Nuerge, Joseph Selking, Jay Smithley, Sally Smithley, James Solloway, Jerry Rahrig