MATA, Ogborne finally wins big Intersectional trophy

MATA, Ogborne finally wins big Intersectional trophy

By John Packett

RTA Contributing Writer

For more than a decade, Julie Ogborne has been taking her Mid-Atlantic squad to the U.S. Tennis Association’s National Team Intersectional Championships to compete against some of the top players in their age groups.

But the MATA group had never brought home the big trophy — until last month in Boca Raton, Fla.
“There were so many years that we finished second or third,” said Ogborne, the team captain from Richmond and one of the doubles players, “and we were very happy and proud to do that. We just couldn’t win it though.”

So how do you account for this five-person squad finally winning the 45s division?

“I honestly think the difference was we had everybody there and healthy,” said Ogborne, a former city singles and doubles champion.

The rest of the lineup included Richmonders Kirsten Elim and Leslie Butterworth, Andrea Rice of Bethesda, Md., and Alicia Rowley of Fredericksburg. The Mid-Atlantic section of the USTA is made up of Maryland, D.C., and Virginia

“Typically in the past, somebody was missing,” explained Ogborne. “When we got to the final in Texas, Kirsten wasn’t there. She was running the marathon back in Richmond. Then there was the year we did very well but Andrea had a wrist injury so she wasn’t able to play singles.

“All those other years, there was some little piece missing, and it just wasn’t the same. I felt like this time, boy, we really had everybody who was healthy and playing well and bringing their ‘A’ game when they needed to.”

After a first-round bye as the No. 2 seeds, the MATA quintet defeated Pacific Northwest 4-1 in a match that was closer than the score indicates. Each match in this tournament consists of three singles and two doubles.

“They were a tough team,” said Ogborne. “That was by no means an easy match. They were all good, competitive matches.”

Ogborne, a former William and Mary standout, had Rowley at No. 1 singles, Rice at No. 2 and Elim, another former Richmond champion, at No. 3. The top doubles team consisted of Rice and Butterworth, while longtime partners Ogborne and Elim were No. 2.

“I played the exact same lineup every day, which I didn’t think I was going to do but it was working for us, so I said, ‘We’re not changing anything,’” said Ogborne. “At first, I thought I might rotate players in and out of singles … but this was our best lineup.”

The critical match came in the semifinals, where the fabulous five edged third-seeded Texas 3-2. The Texans were led by Gretchen Majors, formerly Gretchen Rush who played professionally and was probably the best singles player in the tournament.

“We had never beaten her in singles for our team,” said Ogborne, “but Alicia came back and beat her in three sets. That was enormous.

“Then Andrea won her match and we went into the doubles up 2-1 instead of down 2-1. Both of our doubles matches went to three sets. Just nail biters. Kirsten and I were playing at the same time Leslie and Andrea. We split sets at the exact same time.”

Butterworth and Rice lost in a third-set tiebreaker, but fortunately for the MATA team, Ogborne and Elim had pulled out their match to clinch it.

“That was an exciting match for sure,” said Ogborne, “because you’re out on the court and it all came down to those [doubles] matches. We had to play out those third sets. It was kind of unusual because you’re so used to playing the [10-point] breaker in USTA tennis [leagues].”

There wasn’t nearly as much drama against No. 4 seed Southern in the final, with the MATA squad winning all three singles to take an insurmountable 3-0 lead into doubles and wound up with a 4-1 decision. Southern had knocked off top seed Florida in the semis.

“I don’t remember a year that a team had swept all three singles to win the tournament,” said Ogborne. “It always comes down to the doubles because the competition is so tough. It’s very hard to win all three singles.

“So we went into the doubles so happy to be out there and not have to worry because the match was [technically] over. Kirsten actually won a three-setter at No. 3 [singles] and that clinched our championship.”

Now that the MATA five (or six in some cases) has finally won, will they keep going and try to make it back-to-back?

“Here’s the thing,” said Ogborne. “It’s going to be in Arizona next year. Usually, it goes back and forth between Boca and Texas but the last three times it was in Texas, there was terrible weather. Cold or rainy, and people were just not coming.

“Our goal will be to get the same people back and also hopefully get Rachel [Gale, six-time city champion] because she couldn’t go this year. We’d love to have six people and go back to Phoenix and hopefully defend our title, which I’m sure will be very difficult.”

The team still has five more years to compete in the 45s, since the next step is 55s and most of the group is at or around 50. Plenty of time to add another big trophy to the collection.

”We’ve been playing together for so many years now … the same core,” said Ogborne. “We’re good friends and the tennis is fun, but more fun are the dinners that you go to afterwards and all the camaraderie with everybody there. It’s a long trip but a lot of fun.”