Thursday, November 28, 2013


When there’s so much to think and talk about it’s tough to know where to begin in recapping the 33rd Annual Naples-Fort Myers Challenge! Do we start with the much deserved kudos to Paula Scheb and her Bonita Bay Club staff? Do we start with the incredible volunteer effort of the Bonita Bay tennis members? Or should we go with the upset victory posted by Fort Myers, only the third in 33 years?
Lucas Vaz
Perhaps we should start with the contributions of FGCU’s Women’s and Men’s Tennis programs, especially the event-clinching victory in Open Doubles by birthday boy, freshman Lucas Vaz and senior Jordi Vives. Perhaps the women should get top billing, because they went 2-0 while the men went 1-2 in the competition. 

Those two wins equaled Fort Myers’ margin of victory (12-10), and they came when the Means sisters, 
Means sisters post a win
Elizabeth and Sara, won their Open doubles match, and Women’s Head Coach Courtney Vernon won her Open Singles match. Pardon my enthusiasm for the FGCU program, but it is warranted given all the things happening with those programs.
Breckenridge members in attendance
The folks at Bonita Bay must agree with me because proceeds of the Naples-Fort Myers Challenge will benefit the Athletic Department’s efforts to erect bleachers adjacent to the tennis courts. I look forward to the day when those bleachers are completely filled and it’s standing room only at the courts for an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal or something.
Paula Scheb
As tremendous as the FGCU story is, I think the amazing job done by Paula Scheb and all of the people to whom she awards credit is really the story here. I have been playing tennis tournaments and events for almost four decades, and there isn’t one that I would consider better orchestrated than the Naples-Fort Myers Challenge.
From the well-organized, friendly registration process, the flat screen live-scoring monitors, the outstanding competition, through the delicious meal donated by Carrabbas (of course everyone had at least seconds), the 2013 Naples-Fort Myers Challenge was a top-notch event!
Captain Timmer in background 
Of course kudos also must go to Fort Myers Captain Jeff Timmer of Colonial and Naples Captain Pete Minarich of Pelican Marsh, both of whom do the tedious work behind the scenes to get the teams together to play the event. But how does Paula do it? The event just keeps getting better year after year.
Bonita Bay volunteers
Paula always gives the credit to her team, and she expressed tons of appreciation for the job the volunteers did. She credited individuals like Lee O’Daniel, Phil Otero, Pater Paul, Ken Mack, Dennis Kozlowski, Charlie Cavaliere, John Pinti, and Maggie Otero for the various areas they headed, including things like registration, score-keeping, parking, publicity, etc. The initial volunteer count was supposed to be 40, but they ended up with 58! What an effort!
The event was billed as, “a team competition between the best tennis players of Lee County against the best of Collier County,” and of course that can be debated. However, on the Naples team, there were a number of former college and challenger tour players, a former Davis Cup player (Jicham Zatini), and a former Wimbledon Doubles Champion JoAnne Russell.
The Fort Myers side of the ledger didn’t lookd nearly as impressive on paper, even with a former ITF World No.1 in Men’s 65 (Fred Drilling), a player (Mike Barnes) who was a collegiate All American with ATP Tour wins over former top-ten players, a former Davis Cup Coach (Larry Gagnon), several FGCU standouts, and tournament host Paula Scheb. Fortunately, the matches aren't played on paper!
Bonita Bay volunteers
It was a close competition all the way through, with eight of the 22 matches concluding in deciding-set tiebreaks, including the clinching climax which featured FGCU’s Vaz and Vives downing FGCU Alum Jose Pastrello and Tyler Manring 10-7 in the deciding set tiebreak.
FGCU Women's Head Coach
Unlike last year’s Challenge, where Naples took seven of the nine deciding-set tiebreaks played, Fort Myers took half of the eight played this time around. Paula and Bonita Bay Head 

Pro Holly Chomyn did their part, winning the Women’s 45 Doubles 10-3 in the deciding-set tiebreak. FGCU’s Women’s Tennis Coach, Courtney Vernon, notched a big one for the winning team, edging her opponent 10-6 in their decider.
There was so much to gush about at this event, that I’m sure Presenting Sponsor Tony Ritzman of Ritzman Tennis was thrilled with his affiliation, and no doubt the other sponsors were as well. Those sponsors included Carrabbas of Bonita Springs; Carlos Amaris & Kay L. Andrews, AVP Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; Five County Insurance; Kriz Physical Therapy, P.A.; and Page & Tuttle.
Spectator Virgil Graves
Late as this report is, I guess it is appropriate because loads of gratitude should be offered up to the folks at Bonita Bay, the sponsors, the players, team captains, Steph our photographer, and to all of the spectators who helped raise approximately $2500 toward erecting court-side bleachers for FGCU tennis matches. Thanks all, and I look forward to another successful collaboration on the 34th Annual Naples-Fort Myers Challenge in 2014. 

The next Bonita Bay tennis extravaganza that you won't want to miss is the FineMark Tour Players Tennis Classic, February 28 - March 1. This celebrity-filled event features current and former ATP and WTA players, and you can join them in raising funds for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

A special note to Fort Myers Captain Jeff Timmer: Of course we’d like you back Jeff, but if this was your fare thee well, thanks for all you have done to make the Challenge what it is. You can see additional photos of the event by clicking here. Game, set, match…T. A.

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