Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Note: Click here for additional photos of the Challenge experience.

Paula Scheb is the hostess with the mostess
Paula Scheb, Director of Tennis at Bonita Bay Club, her staff, and the Bonita Bay management team are without doubt on the forefront of tennis and tennis event technology. That technological leadership was
A sample of Becky Salaun's drone technology photos
from the LED lighting by Techlight on several courts, the buzzing drone photography of Becky Salaun, Director of Communications/IT, to the live scoring provided by PlaySight.
Maybe I’m easily wowed, but when I traverse the grounds of an event and
Duke checking out the scoreboard technology
can tell from the live scoreboards posted in various locations what’s happening, I’m giving the event a thumbs up before I see a single point. Of course, you still need old-fashioned eyes to assist with some of that, and Bonita Bay always has a plethora of easily identified volunteers to help ensure that the event runs like a stream-polished stone…uh, that’s smooooth.

There’s no doubt that Bonita Bay Club is one of the premier tennis
One of the fantastic volunteers doing her thing
facilities in Southwest Florida, and the ongoing beautification of that facility is as inspiring as it gets in our area. But the reason that hundreds of spectators turned out for the 36th Naples-Fort Myers Challenge
The fans were the big winners
is because of the tennis. The 21 matches in such a wide variety of age groups, from Men’s and Women’s Open Singles and Doubles to Men’s 65 Doubles, offer something for every age group and level of player to enjoy.

One of the stories of the 2016
Courtney & CJ enjoying it
Challenge that demands to be told is the impact the FGCU Eagles had on the outcome. Although a number of FGCU alums took part in the event, it was the grit of current Eagles, both men and women, that tipped the balance of power in the Challenge. Five of the eight Fort Myers victories in the 4pm session came from the racquets of current FGCU players and coaches.

Men’s Coach C. J. Weber and Women’s Coach Courtney Vernon made quick work of their opponents with
Maya Ornberg leans into it
a 6-2, 6-1 victory in Mixed Open Doubles. In Women’s Open Doubles, junior Juliana Curtis and sophomore Julia Ascua posted a straight-set, but hard-fought win: 7-5, 6-2. Sophomore Javier Fernandez delivered another FGCU blow for Fort Myers, downing Tye Myers 6-4, 6-4
Javier Fernandez rips one
in a Men’s Open Singles contest. Maja Ornberg, an FGCU freshman, bounced back from a bagel in the second set, after taking the first 6-2, to claim the match tiebreak, 10-4 in Women’s Open Singles, the only women’s singles match of the event. The fifth and final win for the FGCU contingent…well, I’m gonna save that one for later.

The bottom line for those in attendance was that the 2016 Challenge offered as much drama as you will ever see in the challenge. After Naples
Juliana Curtis and Julia Ascua notch one for Fort Myers
jumped out to a 7 – 2 lead during the 2pm session, one might have thought that it was just another year for Naples to romp. After all, they’ve done so a number of times over the years, winning 31 of the previous 35 Challenges. But the Naples-Fort Myers Challenge has actually become a challenge the past few years, and Fort Myers fought on.

As the 4pm matches progressed, and the wins
Mike Curran & Pete Minarich- Challenge Captains
began to fall in the Fort Myers column, the excitement and anticipation were ratcheted up a few notches. It showed on the faces of both the Naples (Pete Minarich) and Fort Myers (Mike Curran) captains. Nearing the end of the 
4pm session, Fort Myers had claimed seven of the eight completed matches and led the Challenge 9 – 8 with one match still being contested. A win for Naples in that match would mean a  tied score going into the three 6pm marquee matches. 

And what a match that one was! I’ve been searching my memory
Championship Court view 
for a men’s doubles match that equals the quality of play, level of intensity, and sheer dramatic content as the match that pushed Fort Myers into the lead in the 2016 Naples-Fort Myers Challenge. As of this writing, I can’t think of a single one, at any level, that compares.

It was undoubtedly the match of the event, and it pitted FGCU’s
Oliver Landert delivers heat with Andres Alfonso at net
Oliver Landert and Andres Alfonso against Lucas Regas and Jose Luis Soto. With this much talent on the court, it should have been no surprise to anyone that this match was as scintillating as it was. In the Naples corner was Regas, formerly an
Lucas Regas & Jose Soto ready Naples Challenge defense
internationally ranked doubles player, who was once among the top 100 players in Spain. His partner Soto is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama Huntsville, where he played No.1 Singles and finished his career by winning 26 consecutive dual matches. Hardly chopped liver, eh?

In the Fort Myers corner, we had Landert, a Naples native who is
My shoulder would be in pain. No sweat for Andres
a junior at FGCU, and who posted 31 total wins for the Eagles during their 2015-16 campaign. His partner, Andres Alfonso, is a senior at FGCU who plays the top spot in singles and doubles, and who posted 34 wins for the Eagles last year. He’s as good an all-around player as the Eagles have on the roster.

Now, a lot of doubles matches have deteriorated (in my opinion) into singles rallies crosscourt from the baseline with the net
Lucas Regas blisters a backhand while
Jose Soto prepares to poach
person making an actual move to cut a ball off every election year or so. Okay, maybe it isn’t quite that bad, but…Anyway, this match, this incredible momentum-swinging match, was everything but the hit-the-ball crosscourt-until-somebody-makes-an-error kind.

Serve-volley, groundies ripped down the middle, down the line,
One of Andres' crazy gets
incessant poaching, angled flicks of the wrist, lob-overhead sequences, mad sprints for deft dropshots…Man! This match had every tennis shot and doubles strategy on display. Yes, there were even some of those crosscourt rallies, but they didn’t last long, and were not the norm in this match.

In addition to the dynamic display of superb shot-making, the
Jose Luis Soto prepares for backhand return
match went to three tiebreaks, and the outcome hung suspensefully in the balance right down to the final point! To give you some idea of how intense and hard-fought the match was, it was one of the 4pm matches, and I believe two of the scheduled
How about this for courtside tech!
6pm matches were just about wrapping up when they finished the almost-three-hour slugfest. How does 7-6 (6), 6-7 (4), 10-8 grab you? Well, it surely grabbed just about every spectator who remained on the premises.

This is what tennis competition is all about. Fort Myers, after
Fort Myers climbing back into contention
trailing 7-2 at the end of the 2pm session, had moved ahead 10-8 after the 4pm round, and only needed one more win from the remaining three matches to claim their second victory in four years. While some may want to point to the historical Naples domination (the challenge now stands at 31-5 in their favor), Naples Captain Pete
Diane Geater & Pete Minarich exchange greetings
Minarich sees it another way: “I prefer to frame it as we’ve split the last 4 years at 2-2. The Challenge has never been better than when Paula began hosting at Bonita Bay and Mike became Ft. Myers’ captain. The event has come down to a tiebreaker or two for the past 4 years and it’s the real deal- a true battle where every match really counts!”

Pete was like a kid in a candy store this past Saturday, and you
won’t see Mike much more jubilant than he was that night, even
Mike Curran & Dominique Levin close out
2016 Challenge with a win- Photo courtesy of Tara Curran
before he and Bonita Bay Head Pro Dominique Levin won the final match of the event in straight sets. I know Paula, her staff, and the sponsors (Ritzman Tennis Courts, Yonex, Techlight, PlaySight, Five County Insurance, and Bonita Bay Club) were pretty pleased with the outcome of the 36th Naples-Fort Myers Challenge. If you were there, I’m sure you were too. See you at next year's Challenge! Game, set, match...

T. A. & Steph

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