July 19, 2004

Clays at the Capitol

July 18, 2004

Another stint of recruiting at the national junior tournaments kicked off with a long red-eye flight from San Francisco to our nation's capitol. Following an hour delay while connecting in Las Vegas, I waited patiently to lift off to Washington D.C. for the USTA National Clay Court Championships. A non-reclining seat and a more-than-reclined traveler in front of me didn't leave much room for comfort as the all-night flight landed early Saturday morning. Operating on west coast time and not much time to spare, I headed to the rental car office and eventually the tournament hotel a Coaches Expo.

The combined 18s and 16s event was a first for Washington D.C. as the older division was moved north after many years in Louisville, Kentucky. Stepping into the hotel lobby, a familiar scene could be witnessed. Players lounging in chairs listening to the latest pop/rap/rock hit on their iPods, parents checking in their future Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras hopefuls into their rooms, tournament coordinators scrambling from the tournament desk to the office, college coaches sporting the latest flashy team gear and hotel staff doing their best to ensure everyone enjoyed their stay.

The expo featured 20 or so representatives from campuses across the country displaying brochures, media guides and other promotional items to the seniors-to-be and their parents and coaches. The three-hour event was a solid stream of introductions and greetings, Q&A sessions, distribution of materials and an occasional wave, head bob or eyebrow raise to other coaches in the ballroom.

The Broncos were well visited as the pair of seats that sat in front of the Santa Clara University table was consistently occupied. The NorCal contingent was well represented and each player came by to say what's up to their Bay Area ally. Handshakes, hellos and goodbyes were also given to players from the Southern Californian, Midwest, Intermountain, Texas, Southern and Eastern sections. There was even a nice hello from a fellow San Diego State alumnus who had only been previously met through email and phone conversations.

The time flew by as a tournament representative asked us to wrap things up. The crowd grew thin and players darted for the doors and off to the practice courts. Parents and coaches followed to see these young guns prepare for their week of competition. In addition to battling the slippery and slow clay courts, there were also plenty of mosquitoes and other friendly bugs that welcomed the competitors.

After an afternoon of talking, walking and watching, it was off to the city center for a bite to eat with a pair of good friends. A healthy, yet not-so-healthy, dinner at a popular Mexican restaurant gave way to food coma and bedtime. An early wake up call was soon scheduled for the first day of competition.

A peaceful sleep was rudely interrupted by an alarm as the clock struck 6:30 a.m. and the day was to begin. Raindrops greeted me on the street as I headed to the corner for a shot of caffeine, a stop that could become rather routine.

It was interesting to wonder what players would find themselves sporting Bronco red and white in the near future. First thing, however, was to make sure I weaved my way through the neighborhood and in the right direction to the freeway while figuring out the local radio stations for some entertainment along the way.