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Local junior tennis teams ready for district

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DISTRICT BOUND: Grant County Community Tennis Association president and Marion High School coach Doug Porter talks to his team of young players prior to rain washing out Wednesday night's practice session at Indiana Wesleyan. Porter is taking four teams from the GCCTA in various age divisions to South Bend on Saturday to compete in the USTA's Northern Indiana District team tennis tournaments.
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TEAM TENNIS: Mississinewa senior Conner Murphy is one of several local tennis playerswho will represent the Grant County Community Tennis Association in the USTA Northern Indiana District team tennis tournament in South Bend on Saturday.
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TEAMMATES: Marion juniors Vikram Oddiraju (left) and Jack Fauser got some warm ups in before rain washed out practice for the Grant County Community Tennis Association junior teams at IWU on Wednesday evening. Four teams will represent the GCCTA in the USTA Northern Indiana District team tennis tournament on Saturday in South Bend.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Keeping the competitive juices flowing while providing a fun summertime environment is Doug Porter's objective for his USTA junior tennis teams, and Saturday's Northern Indiana District tournament is the perfect outlet.

Porter takes four teams to the district in South Bend, which is the first step of USTA junior competition. Play is staged in boys and girls singles and doubles and mixed doubles divisions, and teams are playing for berths in the July 27-28 USTA Midwest Section in Indianapolis.

Competing for Grant County Community Tennis Association, Porter has assembled his age group teams mainly from Marion and Mississinewa but also other area schools. The Giants' Kayla Dubuque and Delta's Ellie Snider competed against each other in the high school season but now have joined forces and will continue to be teammates at Indiana Wesleyan.

"It's fun for our kids to play with kids from the other schools," Porter said Wednesday evening after practice at Indiana Wesleyan University was rained out. "They are competitors during the season, but here they get to be teammates."

"We're strong and have 27 players," he continued, "but we have other players from the Muncie area, one from Delta and two from Yorktown, and a few other schools as well. We've got a nice presentation of players and I think we have a chance to do really good things in a couple divisions and do well in all of them."

Dubuque and Snider are part of the 18-and-under advanced team and in 2017 helped GCCTA advance to the national tournament. The team also features Noah Lyons, Vikram Oddiraju, Jack Fauser, Caleb Spitzer and Brady Buckler from the Giants boys' team, while Conner Murphy, Riley Fuqua and John Oliver represent Mississinewa.

Ella Frantz from Ole Miss' girls' team is part of the 18Us advanced team and competing in USTA for the first time. The sophomore said her biggest objective is to gain more tournament experience.

"I''ve done a lot of tournaments over the years," Frantz said. "I'm really excited to do something new and branch out and this is my first USTA tournament. It will help me to develop as a player being on this team.

"I always compete to win," she added, "but yes, it's a good learning experience, especially being so young and on the 18s advanced. I just to have fun and learn a lot."

CTA also has teams entered in the 18U intermediate, 14U intermediate and 12U divisions. The USTA district is all team competition and matches are eight-game pro sets for ages 14 and up and six-game pro sets for the younger groups. Division winners automatically advance to the Midwest Section, which will include teams from five states.

"There is no add scoring, which is different for the kids," Porter said. "But they get used to that when we play our spring season and in our local league we do no add scoring. Kids have a lot of fun with it and it's a fun event."

Porter said the GCCTA has a good track record of advancing teams to the Midwest Section, ranging from two to five qualifiers in recent tournaments. Teams that don't win also can advance as wild cards.

According to Porter, the teams with best chances of advancing are the 18U intermediates and 12Us, although he isn't totally familiar with the rest of the field. The Northern District includes teams from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Munster and Portage.

Gavin Ruberg, 12, a The King's Academy student, plays for the 12Us and hopes to have a successful tournament for himself and the team.

"I want to try and get farther than we did last year ... we didn't get to go on to Indy last year," he said. "I've gotten a bit better than last year and I'm hoping to win my games if we don't move on."

Ruberg's older sister Adria Ruberg also plays for GCCTA and seeks out opportunities to play tournaments since The King's Academy doesn't field an IHSAA-sanctioned high school team.

"I try to play as much as possible," said Adria Ruberg, who will be a freshman. "It's a fun game and I love playing. (The district) is good practice and a chance to get better because improving is a good thing."

Porter said the GCCTA teams have been practicing regularly since early June and they are ready for the district competition.

"Last year we were runners-up in 18 advanced and 18 intermediate and we've always done well (at district)," Porter said. "Our 18 advanced team is good and it just depends on the competition. The teams up there will be strong, but hopefully, we'll do well and see how many teams win or get a wild card."