Memorial Day weekend was quite a whirlwind of activity at the Paddle Battle Tournament in Michigan City, Indiana. Our good friend, Jeff Cederna was the tournament director for the Northwest Athletic Club’s first annual Pickleball tournament. The Jagers got a first-hand look at just how a tournament is run from competing in events as players to managing bracket divisions as volunteers.Leading up to tournament day have been weeks of drilling sessions working on skills with dinking, third-shots, volleys, and a private lesson with 5.0 player, Brandon Schmeling. We have also been building up our conditioning for singles play with running, cycling, swimming, and playing matches against each other. The past couple weekends, we met up with Jeff Cederna at NAC for open play to practice with our doubles partners a few times leading up to the Paddle Battle. Tournament week was just like preparing your mind and body to run a race by discussing strategy, visualizing success, getting plenty of rest, and eating nutritious meals without experimenting untested menu items. It was all about exercising a healthy routine to arrive ready to play and maintain our energy throughout the weekend.We left Friday after work for the Singles division that evening in Michigan City. Derek competed in the 4.0 Men’s Singles and I played 3.0-3.5 Women’s Singles in Round Robin. We started hitting ground strokes with our opponents to warm up on the courts. As the men’s matches began, I helped Jeff set up nets for the next day and checked the net height of each court with a tape measure.
As I stepped onto the court for my first Singles match, I focused on quieting all distractions while lowering into a lunge with my heels up to anticipate the ball and follow through with nice, easy ground strokes. I reminded myself that over half the battle of Singles was mental and that every point mattered. I had to minimize unforced errors due to missed returns and out serves. Every ball would need to be run down so that my paddle could at least make contact and keep the play alive. This was my mission of the day, to never give up and give it everything I had.
My first match began timidly and I had to work my way back from a deficit. I knew that my opponent had tennis strokes so I would need to place the ball more strategically and approach the net to put away the shot. I started to win a few points and my confidence grew when we were neck and neck until I completed the match at 11-9. Feeling warmed up after my first match, I grew more comfortable with an elevated heart rate and remaining slightly out-of-breath for the duration of my second match. When I felt tired, I reminded myself that it was just like running a race and that it didn’t matter that I was breathing hard from sprinting the court length side-to-side. The second match was another close one that I eventually won at 12-10. The third match was quickly won at 11-0 and my last match was a brutal 4-11 against a skilled player.
In the medals round, I won my first match with more purpose at 11-4 but then fell short of beating my opponent for the Gold at 6-11 in the final match. It was only my second time competing in Women’s Singles and I loved every minute of it. I enjoyed being in control of the play and having to make every point count instead of relying on my partner or worrying about letting them down. It was all up to me to make change happen so when I earned the Silver medal, I felt relieved and elated that my hard work had begun to make a difference. After the competition, I chatted with the other ladies and made a couple new friends from the tournament. I knew right then and there that this would not be my last Singles competition.
In the meantime, Derek was competing on the courts for 4.0 Men’s Singles while the Women’s Singles were in play. Derek played a match to 15 points against each of the three opponents before playing two more matches in the finals to win the Gold medal. He went undefeated with 15-10, 15-4, 15-5, 15-13, and 15-5, putting a target on his chest for the next time he plays his friend, Lamont at NAC. We were both exhausted, but proud of our success and excited for the next day’s events. By 7:00 am Saturday morning, we were back for the Mixed Doubles events. I signed up with my partner, Carl Simpson, in the 3.5 Mixed Doubles and Derek volunteered to run the 4.5/5.0 MXDS. Carl and I played together when we were training at Northwest Athletic Club and decided to compete as a team in the Paddle Battle tourney. We were a little nervous in our first match and lost too many points at 10-11. In each following match that we played, our strategy was to emphasize our strengths by keeping the ball low in the kitchen until we absolutely had to engage in the fast volley game. We used our time-outs strategically as mental breaks to reset the game and motivate each other. Almost every match that we played was a really good game with 11-6, 3-11, 11-7, 11-10, and 11-6. We were so close to winning the bronze medal, but it just slipped through our grasp at 8-11. I enjoyed partnering with Carl and we played really well as a team.
While I was playing doubles with Carl, Derek was playing mastermind of the brackets on the 4.5/5.0 courts for the advanced players. His job was to organize team rotation, tally scores, and keep the courts full so the tournament could run smoothly. He managed the division completely by hand without the computer-generated program and managed to get over fifty-five matches of a Round Robin tournament completed in just a few hours.
Derek laid down the foundation for me to pick up the reins on the last day of the tournament with Men’s and Women’s Doubles teams on Sunday morning. He teamed up with Jeff to play 4.5 Men’s Doubles while I ran the brackets for the 4.5/5.0 Men’s division. I was able to get into a roll with court assignments, recording scores, and anticipating the next combinations of teams to put in play. I tweaked Derek’s system slightly by getting to know all of the players and making note of which teams were sitting out each round so that I could rearrange the numerical order of the matches and put those teams in on the next available court. I also cut down on transition time by announcing the next set of teams to play each other as soon as I saw a game end so that they could be ready to walk down to the courts while the teams who had just played were transitioning back to the waiting area. This kept the games moving and the waiting time down.
It got a little interesting when totaling the seeds for the 4.5 Men’s finals because there were four teams tied by 3 wins each and they had each won against each other in head-to-head, so each team’s total points had to be added up and then when two teams were still tied by 94 points, I had to look back to who had beaten the other team when they played each other to seed the bracket. The final rounds were played 1 game to 15 points, win by 2 points for the medalists.
With all of my attention on keeping the matches in play, I hardly had a chance to watch any of Derek and Jeff’s games even though they were playing in the same division. While recording scores, I could keep an eye on their points to see how they were doing. As always, they enjoyed playing with each other and had some very competitive matches. We celebrated a job well done with a feast of champions at one of Jeff’s favorite restaurants called “Holly’s” in Michigan City.
I was impressed with how much preparation Jeff had done as tournament director to delegate responsibilities so that he could also compete in the Paddle Battle. Experiencing the inside scoop of how a tournament is run was fascinating and we were pleased with the opportunity to be involved and help our friend out. The Jagers had a wonderful time at the Paddle Battle Memorial Weekend Tournament. The next tourney we are looking forward to competing in comes up this weekend in the South Shore Open in St. Joseph, Michigan.