Lake Norman & Mooresville

Friends make winning tennis team

It's the United States Tennis Association state championship tournament in Pinehurst, and Tracey Marchitelli and her River Run team pause to size up their competition.

The other women are lean, mean, dressed in green - and seem to be at least 20 years younger than the members of Marchitelli's team. They're also the only thing standing between River Run and the finals.

Despite the "Green Machine's" intimidating presence, Marchitelli's team has no problem putting them away and advancing. A year ago, most of the members of the River Run team had done little more than pick up a racquet.

The women - Marchitelli, Kerry Napper, Susan Cohen, Leanne Farrell, Carolyn Thomson, Kathleen Navola, Chris McLaughlin, Bonnie Shelton and Karen Williams - had met at a beginner's clinic at River Run the previous summer.

The women agreed that they were all looking to exercise, have fun and socialize.

"I'd spent so many years putting my kids on the bus, not realizing that this was a sport I could pick up," said Napper. With the exception of Cohen, who is a runner, none described themselves as athletes. But all took a quick love to the game.

They continued to play together through the winter, and decided to form a spring USTA level 2.5 team.

At that point, Farrell said, "I'd never even heard of Pinehurst."

That was about to change. As the season progressed, the team realized something: They were winning.

"There was a point when I was like, 'Umm-guys? We're doing really well,'" said Marchitelli. "We asked ourselves, do we want to have fun or do we want to go to Pinehurst?"

"We sort of said, 'Let's just see where this goes,'" said Cohen.

And "go" it did. The team upped their practices and pulled into first place among the local teams. Along the way, they grew closer as friends.

They gathered at Marchitelli's house after matches to talk, have a glass of wine, and eat popcorn and Doritos.

"I think the thing I enjoyed least on the team was actually playing the matches," said Marchitelli, laughing. "What I enjoyed most was practicing with these friends, playing for fun. We just all had a great chemistry."

The team continued their streak and wound up heading to Pinehurst for the finals, filled with excitement as well as apprehension. "There were many times I thought, 'I'm going to throw up,'" said Marchitelli.

Four days later, the team advanced all the way to the finals. "As you keep winning, the stakes get higher and higher," said Farrell. "But it was all so unbelievable. We were just so excited to be there."

Though the team was defeated in the very end, there are no regrets.

"What was most important were the people of the team, making sure everyone played and had fun," said Marchitelli. "And even with that formula, we still almost ended up winning. So overall, we couldn't be happier."