With nine students either 15 years old now or turning 15 in this calendar year, Countryside Montessori is looking to make its mark in Charlotte’s United States Tennis Association intermediate team division for the first time this spring.
After placing first in Lake Norman’s U14 beginners USTA team division this past fall (5-3), the Mustangs finally have the age and numbers required to jump up to the USTA’s intermediate U18 level.
“It’s going to be more competitive, and it’s coed,” said third-year Countryside coach Tim Ridge. “We will be likely one of the youngest teams there, but it’s going to be a challenge, and we’re going to have fun with it.”
Ridge stressed that with Countryside being such a small school, the only way to field a team and play in the fall was to go through the USTA.
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“This year we have 23 kids in the program,” said Ridge. “Fourteen in the middle school and nine in high school.”
Despite the small enrollment, Ridge’s team managed to win 214 games the past fall – 20 more than any other team in the league.
“When you win the beginners league, the USTA kindly asks that you move up a division,” said Ridge.
When Ridge took over the school’s tennis program three years ago, he inherited a group of players that ranged from fifth to eighth grade. Those students now make up the core of his first U18 team.
The Mustangs top returning player from this fall is 15-year-old Abie Buttar, who finished 5-0 in singles play and 3-1 in doubles action.
Buttar spent the winter training every weekend, straight through the coldest days, with coach Ridge. Most recently, Buttar put in two hours of work last weekend in an effort to refine his already solid serve.
“Abie is probably our best player,” said Ridge. “He could go on to play in college if he keeps training.”
Joining Abie on this year’s squad is Yasmine Lopez, who played at the U14 intermediate level last fall for the Highland Creek Hurricanes, and Sky Fuller, who has some USTA intermediate experience as well with the Concord-based Sports Center team.
With the team’s first practice set for March 15, coach Ridge hasn’t yet had a chance to speak with all the players about the jump in level of competition. But Ridge said the players that he has worked with this winter all seem excited about the move.
Also on this year’s team is coach Ridge’s daughter, Devon, who went 4-4 in doubles play during this past fall.
Just like his team has worked hard to improve each year, so too has coach Ridge – whose sport of choice growing up was soccer before injuries steered him in the direction of a tennis court.
“They needed a coach here at Countryside,” said Ridge. “Their previous coach had things come up that forced him to stop, so I said, ‘Well, I’ve played a little tennis,’ and took over the job.”
Since then, Ridge has regularly attended the USTA’s coaching clinics and done his best in the time that he has had to improve.
“I’ve been trying to improve myself,” he said. “I think I’ve gone from somebody’s dad to being a head tennis coach, which I never expected to happen, but have very much enjoyed.”
The Mustangs’ season begins on March 23.