Column: Club tennis team quickly works from rags to riches

Column: Club tennis team quickly works from rags to riches

Two months ago middler Ankur Shah and sophomore Ashley Dentler adopted a large group of children. A whole litter of Huskies – 48 in total, including 29 girls.

And boy, they couldn’t be more proud. Their kids are supportive, competitive and trustworthy. In turn, Shah and Dentler lead the family on weekend trips to exotic places with exciting people.

Just a few weeks ago, the gang traveled to Weymouth, (a short day trip about 20 miles south of Boston) where they met similar families from Cambridge and Connecticut.

There’s no need to feel Shah and Dentler are wasting their youthful lives away – the family in question is Northeastern’s club tennis team, a group of Huskies that, until two months ago, had little to call their own.

Before Shah and Dentler united, the club was in disarray. Last year’s squad had a total membership of 12 guys and one girl. The team was forced to forfeit their lone match in 2006, their first match in five years, because the rules required two female students to be on the squad.

“Last year, we went to this New England tournament without a team,” Shah said. “We just called people the day before and asked, ‘Hey, we have a tournament tomorrow, any chance you could possibly make it?'”

Shah received an ultimatum from the club sports office after the tournament: if this continues, there’ll be no lovely afternoon games of tennis for anyone. The school was considering a cut of the program, Shah said. The only way to keep playing would be to try harder.

And so they did.

“We had to go in [to the club sports office] and prove that we could get our act together,” Shah said. “They wanted to see some results.”

In future years, if the tennis club has blossomed into a true varsity sport that draws thousands in attendance yearly, Shah can look back to Jan. 15, 2007, as the date it all began. The club’s first meeting was held that day, and thanks to recruitment tactics that ranged from word-of-mouth marketing to the mysticism behind posting an announcement on myNEU, a crowd of 65 potential players showed up.

And it wasn’t the punch and pie that drew them in, but for love of the game.

“It’s only been about three months, but since then we’ve raised thousands of dollars from player dues and played a lot more matches this year than we ever had,” Shah said. “We’ve gotten a lot of respect from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) because we’ve pretty much come from nothing.”

The New England Regional Tournament in Weymouth has been the highlight of the club’s short life. There, the team really proved their mettle – beating such established opponents as Yale and advancing to the championship round against Harvard – where the winning team was awarded a trip to the national championships in North Carolina – but lost.

Not bad for a team that forfeited their first match in five years last season. Heck, our Husky raqueteers even looked like more of a team than their Ivy League counterparts.

“We’ve gotten a lot of comments from the other teams because we were the only team at the big tournament that came with uniforms and warm-up suits,” Dentler said. “So it kind of looked like we had our act together.”

The loss to Harvard is “still a sore subject,” Dentler said. But she won’t let herself, or anyone else on the squad, wallow in their miseries. What the team has done this year had been extraordinary – catapulting from underappreciated club team to national tournament contenders.

And all in three month’s time.

“If you really look at the logistics of all of this, we’ve only been a club for three months and it shows where the team could go,” Dentler said. “We’re really determined to get to nationals.”

But that determination includes the little things – it entails the midnight practices, the money for dues and the hour’s worth of travel it takes to hone their skills.

“Everybody has been very on top with what they need to do in order to get there,” Dentler said. “It’s been really great. Everyone comes out to play.”

– Matt Foster can be reached for comment at [email protected]

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