Schenectady

Central Park fills in as venue for junior nationals tennis tourney

Brooke Hess, a rising senior at the Academy of Holy Angels in New Jersey, returns a serve from Esha Velaga of Colmar, Pennsylvania, during the USTA Level 2 18 & Under national championship qualifier at Schenectady's Central Park tennis courts Monday afternoon.
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Brooke Hess, a rising senior at the Academy of Holy Angels in New Jersey, returns a serve from Esha Velaga of Colmar, Pennsylvania, during the USTA Level 2 18 & Under national championship qualifier at Schenectady's Central Park tennis courts Monday afternoon.

SCHENECTADY – Central Park is hosting a four-day national tennis tournament, bringing a boost to the local economy during the Independence Day weekend.

The city is a substitute location for a U.S. Tennis Association junior tournament that couldn’t take place in its normal location because of the pandemic.

The USTA’s Level 2 nationals for girls 18 and under are held here Saturday through Tuesday.

Sixty-four girls, some from as far away as California, Arizona and Washington, are competing in singles play, and many of the same girls were among 32 competitors in doubles tennis.

The top 16 singles players were all ranked within the top 100 in the country, and the winner of the tournament to receive an automatic bid into a national hardcourt tournament in San Diego.

The winner of that tournament gets a bid into the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, tournament director Ari Roberts said.

Held the past seven years at the Military Academy in West Point, about 120 miles away, this year’s location was changed to the Electric City because the academy remains closed until Tuesday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roberts said he didn’t know until early June that the academy would be closed for this long, sending him scrambling for new accommodations.

The tournament requires an outdoor venue, and Roberts said he knew Schenectady had hosted well-run adult league sectional events here, and that Central Park’s 17 courts were enough to support the tournament.

He said he worked with the city of Schenectady and the USTA’s Eastern section to move the location.

“It was quite challenging logistically, in three weeks, to be able to move a whole tournament from one location to another and find athletic trainers and (racquet) stringers and hotels, and do the logistics around it and notify the players. The players had to change their travel plans.”

The condition of the courts and the city’s allotment of hotels and the restaurants made for a “home-run location,” Roberts said.

The tournament began with 97 matches Saturday and 81 Sunday, despite rain on both days. There were about 30 matches Monday. Semifinal and final matches are Tuesday.

Losers of the main draw compete in a consolation feed in the backdrop.

In addition to the stellar, fast-paced play, the tournament was a boon for the city, said spectator and City Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who noted that the coaches and the girls and their families were staying at the Landing Hotel, Courtyard Schenectady at Mohawk Harbor, and Hampton Inn.

On Sunday, Zalewski-Wildzunas introduced herself to 17-year-old Brooke Hess, a rising high school senior from Cedar Grove, N.J., who is bound to join her sister on the Dartmouth College tennis team.

“You girls are doing a fabulous job,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “The tennis level is superior to anything we’ve seen here in a while.”

Hess said the tournament is well-run and enjoyable, and the 17 courts here kept players from waiting for matches.

Hess said the local Panera Bread was a “hotspot” where she ran into fellow tournament-goers.

Julie Hailey, the mother of 18-year-old competitor Kirstin Hailey of Clinton, Massachusetts, said she took note of how friendly Schenectadians were, and she enjoyed the park.

“The park is beautiful because, just being able to go get shade, and there’s people around with their dogs which is a nice distraction when the kids are so stressed,” Hailey said.

“It’s such a lovely beautiful place. A lot of times we’re just in a bank of tennis courts and there’s nothing around and so this is lovely,” said Hailey, whose daughter is bound to continue playing at Bradley University in Illinois.

Recruiters were on-hand from college and university programs such as Villanova, Dartmouth, Brown, Claremont, Massachusetts, Army, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Cornell, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Columbia, Auburn, and Southern California.

Seated at a picnic table as he watched a consolation round match, Ohio State associate head coach Adam Cohen said it was his first visit to the city.

“It’s been a nice tournament, and to be able to get out here and put some faces to names and see the level that’s out here has been good for us to see,” Cohen said.

Roberts and Zalewski-Wildzunas credited Discover Schenectady County, the non-profit agency that promotes the area’s travel and tourism industries, for helping to get the tournament set up on short notice.

“It’s pretty cool that Schenectady is so nimble,” the councilwoman said. “To think about all these people that came in from all across the country, and they’re in Schenectady.”

The city maintains the courts and considers the playing venue a city “jewel,” she said. They were resurfaced two or three years ago, said Zalewski-Wildzunas, saluting the work of city engineer Christopher Wallin and his team. 

 

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