The Wisconsin Club Tennis Team traveled to Surprise, Ariz. the weekend of April 16 to 18 and had a very successful showing at the national club tournament. The second place finish was its highest in the four years of club tennis’ existence at Madison.

The first round of the national tournament is set up in pool format, with 16 groups of four teams who play a round robin against each other. In the first round, Wisconsin played Alabama, Boston College and Stanford. After winning these first three matches, the squad advanced to the gold bracket, consisting of all 16 teams who won their preliminary pool. Wisconsin advanced all the way to the finals, defeating Marquette, Maryland and Central Florida on the way, before losing to Duke by a 26-21 decision in overtime in the title game.

The team had quite an impressive season up to that point as well, winning the UW-Whitewater Invite, a match against Northwestern, the Mardi Gras Tournament in New Orleans and, for the third consecutive year, the Midwest championships, which is the qualifying tournament for nationals. The team also placed highly at its home event, the Badger Classic, which is the biggest tournament in the country other than nationals.

The success the Badger club tennis team displayed should come at no surprise, according to team Vice President Justin Fielkow. Since the school’s initial season four years ago, they’ve seen membership “grow exponentially,” Fielkow said.

“It started as a group of about 25 dedicated guys who were looking to continue playing tennis competitively, and now this year we had 250 people try out. It’s been crazy,” Fielkow said. “As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve gotten better.”

Although the growth in just Madison has been impressive over the past several years, according to team President Kevin Rolston, all club tennis teams have seen a rise in competitors.

“Club tennis numbers have exploded during my time here,” Rolston said. “When we started, there were about 50 teams. Now, there are over 400 teams in the country.” Rolston cited one reason for the increased participation could be players are getting involved in national junior United States Tennis Association events at younger ages. Therefore, the exposure is increasing the level of talent at all levels.

“As the gap widens between Club and Varsity levels, more kids are turning to the club,” he said.

But while the club level participation is on the rise, team recreation team President Sarah Weil feels that the club team is sometimes the first resort for some incoming players, even over the varsity option.

“Some kids don’t want the commitment of varsity, even if they are good enough to play,” Weil said. “They know that they can continue to play and compete against others at a high level with less of a time commitment.”

With the growing numbers and sustained success recently, the club tennis team has been able to draw interest from some very talented incoming players. Fielkow and Rolston both admitted they feel like they have some players who could most definitely play varsity on Division I schools around the country.

“That isn’t the typical norm, but we’ve proven that we’re one of the best teams in the country by winning the Midwest Division for the last three years,” Fielkow said.

The club consists of two teams: The recreational team and the traveling team, each sporting about 50 members apiece. Rolston described most traveling team members as players that played four years of varsity in high school, placed high or even won their respective state tournaments, and even participated in and having been competitive in national USTA tournaments.

But while the competition is the source of success for the club tennis team, many of the members agree their favorite part of being on the club team is the opportunities they have to travel and meet new people and, of course, being able to get good tennis experience at a reasonable price.

“Tennis is usually an individual sport, but the club makes it very team-oriented, which is nice,” Weil said. “Also, getting to know your teammates better by practicing with them every week and traveling with them has been a great experience. Ultimately, it’s just nice getting to continue playing tennis through college, even if you might not be good enough to play for the varsity team.”

“It has been one of the best experiences of my life, getting to bond with the guys that I have been playing together with for four years here,” Fielkow said.