Every USTA League captain has the same dream … get together a group of friends, sign up, play the regular season, win the Long Island playoffs, win the Eastern Sectionals and make it to the National Championships. Jonathan Klee was no different when he started his 4.5 team out of Rockville Racquet Club 15 years ago.
Teaming with good friend and doubles partner Lionel Goldberg, over the years, the two co-captains have transitioned the team to a 40 & Over 4.5 Plus team, which now plays out of Christopher Morley Park in a league that started in 2013. In the team’s 15 years of existence, there have been a number of appearances in the Sectional Playoffs and close calls; some great wins and many disappointing losses. None of those losses were more heartbreaking than last year when the team entered the final match of Sectionals and fell one court short in a 3-2 loss.
Losses like that only added to the team’s motivation, and in 2016, it finally achieved what neither captain had ever done before, win Sectionals and have their team punch a ticket to USTA Nationals, which will be held this year in La Quinta, Calif.
“I think for any USTA team captain, making Nationals is really the bucket list item that you want to accomplish. Except for winning Nationals, of course, getting there is the ultimate achievement for a team,” said Klee. “The one thing that is really great about this team is it encompasses all of Long Island. We have guys from the South Shore and the North Shore, from Nassau County and Suffolk County. Our team encompasses teaching professionals from Robbie Wagner, Point Set, Long Beach, Port Washington and Nassau Indoor. Guys who play on teams at Inwood CC, Lawrence CC, Piquet Lane, Crest Hollow, Engineers CC, Carefree, Sportime Lynbrook, and of course, Christopher Morley. It’s a really diverse core structure of Long Island tennis.”
No strangers to the Long Island tennis community, both Klee and Goldberg have donated countless hours of their time volunteering for the USTA and community events, as well as captaining teams in a number of USTA-sanctioned and non-sanctioned leagues.
Those hours have resulted in both Klee and Goldberg meeting new friends and players, allowing the team to continue to grow each year, culminating this year with the trip to Nationals.
“I am very excited to go to Nationals for the first time,” said Goldberg. “We have a great group of guys on our team, and all are selfless and great teammates.”
The road to Nationals was not an easy one, and the team faced its fair share of nail-biters, including winning a close super tie-breaker in the Long Island final to advance to the Sectionals.
In the Sectionals, the squad won all five of its team matches, and won 18 individual matches in those five contests, a testament to the depth of the roster.
“There’s a lot of competition on Long Island, and teams are always jockeying for players,” said Goldberg. “At the end of the day, I think the reason guys want to play on our team is because it’s a cohesive unit, where everybody gets along and roots for each other. I don’t think many teams have that dynamic.”
Klee added, “You can’t look at it from an individual standpoint. Everyone has to want to win as a team, and be willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the team. The one thing which has been great about these teams over the years is neither Lionel nor I are rarely questioned by teammates in regards to playing time. The guys know we try our best to get everyone involved and put out our best teams when it's crunch time. They know it's not personal and we aren't always perfect, but we grow and learn for the next match. It can make for some tough decisions when you have 18 quality players on a roster and only eight can play the big match"
The run to Nationals after 15 years of coming up short demonstrates the dedication of the team members, and is a deserving milestone for a team captained by two men who have been so instrumental to tennis in the Long Island area.
“The diversity of this team with pros from competing clubs playing together really makes it special. You have players who, on Tuesday nights, play against us in one league, and the next night, they are teammates in another league. Everybody is able to get along, and work towards a common goal, which is to win as a team,” said Klee. “We all have our own personal interest in tennis, yet we were able to come together to try and win, and put together a solid diverse team to represent Long Island at Nationals.”
The 40 & Over 4.5 Plus team, captained by Jonathan Klee and Lionel Goldberg, are headed to the 2016 USTA Adult League National Championships
Jonathan Klee (far right) and Lionel Goldberg (second from right) participating in one of this past summer’s Long Island Tennis Magazine Challenge tournaments, one of the many events the two participate in each year