The frosty mountain nights when the citrus orchard fans whirred and created the crisp, bright days of late December was the perfect backdrop for the 8th Annual Ojai Holiday Tennis Challenge (Dec. 28-29) in which 32 Adult/Youth teams of tennis enthusiasts battled on the Libbey Park courts in downtown Ojai.

Led by Craig Fugle and Jakob Vos, the event was sponsored by the Ojai Valley Tennis Club (OVTC) and received substantial support from many volunteers– particularly, Scott Burton, Ojai Recreation Department Tennis Director, who motivated many of his students to register and participate.

There were several “Firsts” in the 8th Annual Challenge. The draws were completely filled two weeks ahead of the closing date. There were a record total of 19 (out of 32) parent/child teams and the majority of the finalists were parent/child teams. This confirms the family fun and popularity aspects of this event.

The Challenge included two divisions: “In to Win” and “In for Fun, ” each with 16 teams consisting of one adult and one youth player. Regardless of Division, every team match included interesting and close points with some truly epic battles. Jakob Vos explained, “One cannot help but to notice the special atmosphere when you have an adult and a junior (especially a parent and their child) forming a team and working and cooperating together to get the most out of each other and create a team spirit that will lead to a very satisfying experience and hopefully a win.”

Craig Fugle concurred, “This Challenge is a great way to meet new and old friends, all of whom have an interest in tennis and good old fashion family fun.”

The “In to Win” Division, which featured competitive fun, had a large number of highly skilled teams who battled their way to the top to compete in the Semis and Finals. Dave Jones and Mikel Elizalde played Ryan and Campbell Gaston in the first Semi creating a real up and down competition where the Jones/Elizalde were several times in the lead, but could not close out the Gastons. Junior Campbell Gaston upped his game along with his Dad to win the nail biter in a tiebreaker with a final score of 10-9.

Photo by Paul Del Signore

The 2nd “In to Win” Semi-Final was between Jeff Jenkins and Junior Max Mendoza playing Rick and Jules Thompson. The Thompsons, who moved to Colorado two years ago and won this Division in January 2017, came back for a visit and to participate in the Holiday Challenge. Playing solidly and consistently, the Thompsons were able to slowly overtake Jenkins and Mendoza, though Mendoza’s ferocious shots got the attention of both Thompsons. The Final score was 10-5.

The entertaining “In to Win” Final was between the Thompsons and the Gastons. Again the Thompson team played with deep concentration and consistency, out playing Ryan and Campbell Gaston. It became obvious that the Thompsons had the experience and strategy that gave them the edge, and they won the trophy with a score of 10-4. Rick Thompson said, “This was a great win, especially since Jules has her 16th birthday tomorrow.”

The “In to Win” Consolation Final included the experienced team of Junior Chris Boydston and Mike Juett, who played together for the fourth time, and were the “In for Fun” Champions last year, and the father/son team of Danny and Cole Everett. The Everetts had a bleacher full of supporters to cheer them on.

The Everetts complied to their fans’ vocal support, as they continued to battle the very consistent Juett/Boydston team. Vos said, “This match was probably the best of the tournament–certainly one of the most entertaining and closely fought. The spectators rewarded both teams with rousing applause.” The ultimate win went to Juett/Boydston with a Final score of 11-9.

The “In for Fun” Division, which consisted of 13 out of 16 teams featuring a parent with their child, had four teams which advanced to the Semis including Katrina and son Eric Schmidt, Holly Roberts and son Kadin Mouderres, Neil Quinn and Adrian Zamora, and John Bourgain and Kiera Branson. The Schmidt team advanced through the first Semi with a default over the Roberts/Mouderres team, while Quinn/Zamora beat the Bourgain/Branson team in a very close match that ended in 10-7 for the Bourgain/Branson team. The “In for Fun” Championship Final was between Quinn/Zamora and The Schmidt team. The competitive match featured both Juniors who showcased masterful shots on both sides of the net. In the end the Quinn/Zamora team won the Championship with a Final score of 10-6.

The “In for Fun” Consolation Division Final featured two Father/Child teams. The exciting match between Brad and Alex Washburn and Drew and Annelise Rasura provided many “teaching” moments for both the fathers and the juniors. An inspiring match in which either team could have prevailed, but in the end, Brad and Alex Washburn pulled out the win over Drew and Annelise Rasura with a Final score of 10-6.

All Winners and Finalists in the Championship Divisions received trophies, and the Winners and Finalists in the Consolation Divisions received ‘goodie’ bags with tennis gear. Toppers Pizza once again generously donated a delicious pizza and salad lunch for all the players and many volunteers on Saturday, while the Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA) donated T-shirts and some USTA gear.

Photo by Paul Del Signore

According to Jakob Vos, the OVTC Youth Tennis Chair, “This was a great family event, which certainly had the support of all the participants and spectators. Many people deserve a hearty “Thank You!” for making this annual Challenge such a success. They include the participants for their enthusiasm, the spectators for their support and the parents for their dedication and motivation. Everyone is already looking forward to next year’s event, and that is a wonderful compliment.”

The 2018 8th Annual Ojai Holiday Tennis Challenge provided a weekend of family fun and raised approximately $700 for future youth tennis programs in the Valley. For more information about the event or Ojai Youth Tennis, please contact Craig Fugle at: Ojaifugle@gmail.com or Jakob Vos at: jhmvos@aol.com