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NC natives medal at ITF Senior World Team Championships

Two North Carolina natives had the chance to represent their state and country this year at the ITF Seniors World Team Championships in La Baule, France. Greensboro’s Bill Ashley and Durham’s Wendy McColskey were selected by the USTA to play for Team USA, giving the two players a chance of a lifetime to travel and compete overseas.

McColskey, who played singles and doubles for the women’s 60 team, helped USA win gold in the Alice Marble Cup. She was proud of her team, and she felt confident about their chances of winning when the headed over to France.

“It’s probably the biggest team tournament I’ve ever won. I knew we had a pretty good shot at the title because our No. 1 player is so good. We had a really deep team,” McColskey said. “Our No. 3 player beat our No. 1 in the individual championship final, so that shows how deep our team was.”

McColskey is an experienced tournament player. She plays in four or five tournaments each year, and she also plays in the USTA Intersectional Team Championships. However, competing for the USA in an international tournament was a new endeavor.

The invitation to play on for Team USA wasn’t assured, but McColskey new it might happen. Her teammates were integral in helping her adapt to international play.

“I thought based on my performance in nationals I might get an offer, but you never quite know if it’s going to happen, or time wise if it’s going to work. It was all worth it,” McColskey said. “The rest of the team has played in this before, so they showed me the ropes.”

The tournament site in La Baule was, of course, entirely comprised of red clay courts. McColskey, who played for Vanderbilt and Eckerd College when she was younger, went to Europe after college to continue her tennis career, so she was at least somewhat familiar with the playing surface.

The last time McColskey played on clay, though, was nearly 30 years ago. She said it took some time to get used to and adjust to different playing styles.

“It is a little hard to get used to. European players tend to hit that hard continental forehand, so it was a little more adjustment than I expected,” McColskey said. “It was interesting to see how people play differently on clay. When I used to play in Europe I realized I need to drop shot more often, so I remembered that.”

Ashley underwent a similar transition in becoming comfortable with red clay.

“The type of surface was the biggest change. What you learn is the courts have their own characteristics. Some courts were very hard, other locations were soft. It was very important for us to practice to get used to it,” Ashley said.

The trip to France was also Ashley’s introduction to international competition. He finished 2014 with a national ranking of No. 4 in his age division, and he won a bronze ball at the USTA National Men’s 60 & 65 Clay Court Championships in New Orleans.

Ashley was modest about the USTA selecting him to represent the country for the men’s 60 team, but he knew his success on clay courts proved his worth to the team.

“It was an honor. When you’ve been playing tennis as long as I have, this is achieving a major goal,” Ashley said.

The USA men’s 60 team finished second in the Von Cramm Cup, ultimately losing to Australia in the final match. But their off-court bonding as a team was just as significant in Ashley’s eyes.

“The chemistry of our team was beyond what I’ve ever experienced. Tom Smith, our team captain, did an unbelievable job of keeping us all together,” Ashley said. “I’ll remember the chemistry as much as the win. We left kind of as best friends.”

Smith deserved huge adulation for his work with the men’s 60 team, according to Ashley.

“It was intimidating at first, but the format was interesting because you’re allowed to have a coach at all times. Tom really raised my tennis to another level,” Ashley said. “He was able to remind me of adjustments during each match. Fourteen of [Tom’s] national championships have been with 14 different partners. That’s a hell of a statement. He understands the game.”

Both McColskey and Ashley said La Baule rolled out the red carpet for the ITF Seniors World Team Championships. There were banners all across the town promoting the tournament. The local residents were friendly and welcoming to every team. Players forged new friendships with their competitors off the court.

McColskey and Ashley ran into each other during their time in France, providing a little reminder for both of where they came from. They both plan on competing in tournaments later this year, including Intersectional, but for now they’ll relax a bit with the comfort of an ITF medal in their hands.