By J. Fred Sidhu
Rancho Mirage, Calif. – When it comes to playing for the opportunity to reach a USTA League National Championship, one player can make all the difference.
Earlier this year on June 30, 58-year-old Donna Nugent of Liverpool, N.Y., slipped and fell on the deck at her home. She suffered a broken right elbow.
Nugent, a member of the USTA Eastern Section Senior 4.0 team, underwent surgery a few days later. Doctors placed a 3½ inch screw in her elbow. "They (doctors) told me I probably wouldn’t be able to play tennis until next year," Nugent said.
The team, which is based in Syracuse, N.Y., finished 5-1 to win its league. After capturing the USTA Eastern Western Senior Regional Championship, the Eastern women advanced to USTA Eastern Section Championship.
Even though she was eligible to play, Nugent said, "I didn’t think I would play Sectionals at the end of September."
However, what sometimes happens in USTA League was happening to the Eastern women’s team. Injuries and illness began to take their toll on the team.
In late September, they arrived at the Eastern Sectionals (9/24 – 9/26) in Schenectady, N.Y. with just enough players to field a team, only to see one of their team members fall ill after the first day.
While the team stayed in contention for first place, it had to default two critical points before their last match as they only had five players available.
On the day before her team’s last Sectional match, Nugent was called and asked if she could play. "I wasn’t supposed to play and I didn’t get doctor’s permission…," Nugent said. "I went with my son on Saturday to practice to see if I could even hit the ball."
Despite having not played since June, Nugent decided to play and awoke at 5:30 a.m. and drove 2½ hours from Syracuse on that Sunday morning. "It didn’t take much pushing for me to go," Nugent said. "I was just glad to get out there. I was just so excited to play."
With Nugent on the court, the Eastern women had a full lineup for their last match which would determine if they would advance to the 2010 USTA League 4.0 Senior National Championships.
Nugent not only helped her team avoid a costly default, she and teammate Patti Dobia won 6-4, 6-0 at No. 3 Doubles to help the team win Sectionals and earn a trip to the Nationals.
The win at No. 3 doubles proved to be a critical point as the team tied for first and advanced on the basis of fewest sets lost.
"We wouldn’t have been here (Nationals) without her. She’s a team player," said Marion Nies, Nugent’s teammate.
"They didn’t have much of a chance if we had another default," Nugent said. "They’ve been doing all the winning. I just came in to help push it over."