COLUMBIA — The sun beats down on the emerald turf and off of the players' white polo shirts. In the stands, it is a searing 90 degrees but, on the court, Belinda Masters feels like it is 110. Sweat droplets plummet beneath the navy visor on her brow. Masters' tennis racket briefly slips in her hand from perspiration and she turns to her partner. "Let's get this over with and win to get off the court," she said.
Columbia Public School staff members Belinda Masters and Kathie Lutz won the gold medal in their women's doubles tennis bracket at the Show-Me State Games on July 19.
Originally from Virginia, Lutz moved to Columbia in 1994. Her son started kindergarten and she took up tennis lessons during her newly found free time. Discouraged that Columbia did not offer more opportunities for team tennis, Lutz took matters into her own hands and worked to create a USTA sanctioned league.
It took some effort, but in 2005 Lutz assembled eight ladies to start the league. "Everyone said they weren't interested," Lutz said. But after the team went to Tulsa, Okla. for a tournament, interest in competitive team tennis rose.
"It kind of lit the fire," Lutz said. "Ladies started saying ‘I want to do that.'"
Now in its third year, the league consists of three teams - Masters and Lutz' ‘Net Force,' ‘Backspin Babes' and ‘Volley Girls' - and runs March through June.
Masters began playing tennis in college after some friends on the tennis team got her into it. She didn't think about playing competitively until three years ago at a Boy Scout camp. When Masters said she had to slip away, Lutz asked where she was going. "I have to watch the US Open," Masters said. From then on, the two women shared their love of tennis with one another. Lutz invited Masters to join the USTA league and she eagerly accepted.
Masters won the silver in the 2007 Show-Me Games with a different partner. When it came time to start thinking about the 2008 Show-Me State Games, Masters and Lutz decided to team up and go for the gold together. On top of playing their regularly scheduled weekly matches with their USTA team, Masters said the key to their success was strategy and communication. "Frequent matches against other people during the two weeks leading up to the games were really helpful. We played different kinds of players and had to develop different strategies," she said.
To take the gold, they had to win every match they played. The women were set against two of the three teams in their bracket and Lutz said each match lasted about two hours.
Masters took her medal to work the Monday after the competition because her co-workers said she was "really going for the gold this year" after her silver win in 2007. "It (the medal) was proof I really did do it this year," she said. Lutz showcased her medal on the bookshelf of her home.
"I am just really thrilled because of our teamwork. We really jelled," she said.