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The United States Tennis Association allows women ages 18 and up to participate in a national tennis league. Sue Smith, second to the left, is the captain of her team, VASA-Skap, and has led them to an undefeated 2019 season. (Deirdre Scharffs)

Sue Smith throws a tennis ball up into the air and slams it down with her tennis racket during her weekly practice at the indoor tennis courts at the Orem VASA.

Although a mother of six, Smith has a secret talent for tennis: a sport she had thought she had given up when she was 12 years old. 

A native of Salt Lake City, Smith is the captain and coordinator of the Salt Lake region team, VASA-Skap, a United States Tennis Association Club for women ages 18 and up. The 16-women team is entirely composed of BYU professors, BYU professors’ wives and general BYU affiliates who are dedicated to the university, although not explicitly current students themselves.

While none of the players have collegiate or professional experience with the sport, the Provo-based team had an undefeated record of 16-0 at the initial start of their 2.5 league, the beginning league of the USTA. Their talent and continual winning moved the team up a league — a difficult feat to accomplish in a few months’ time.

With the rising success, VASA-Skap said they have figured out the key to winning. 

The “secret sauce” to winning, Smith said, is happy women.

While tennis is the reason the women initially came together, the club team has centered its culture on values like camaraderie and spirituality, which has created a lasting impact. 

Their unique team name, VASA-Skap, even originated from the celebration they have for friendship. While “VASA” derived from the neighborhood facility the team regularly practices at, “skap” is interpreted to mean the suffix “-ship.” Smith said that when put into context, it can be used to create words that demonstrate the core of the women’s new culture such as companionship and friendship.

Sue Smith, far right, and Deirdre Scharffs, second to right, and the VASA-Skap team show their enthusiasm after their game on the outside courts. (Deirdre Scharffs)

As each individual player’s rankings rose, VASA-Skap gained the USTA’s attention and was close to being separated so that members would be playing more at their own skill level. With several teammates making desperate cases to keep the 16 women on the same team, former BYU art history professor and teammate Deirdre Scharffs said it was nothing but a miracle that kept them together.

Instead of being separated, the entire team moved up a league, resulting in playing at the more difficult 3.0 level.  

When their team initially started playing in the 3.0 league, wins were rare. However, as the positive culture took hold, they gained more success, which has led them to their current 15-6 record.

Memphis, Tennessee, local Scharffs has been a member of the team since August 2018 and said the team convened at the beginning of the year to discuss the team’s new mental shift. Where they agreed to continue implementing a competitive drive to their game, they would also focus on enhancing the camaraderie felt on and off the court. 

“We just enjoy each other’s friendship so much that we wanted to foster a really positive environment where we could just enjoy playing the game of tennis together and be with one another,” Scharffs said. 

The team’s record is not the only thing affected by this change — their competitors are being affected as well. 

Scharffs said tennis is a mental sport, so mistakes made on the tennis court can drive a player’s self-esteem down and even go as far as to bring negativity to the whole team. Instead of using their winning spree to their advantage, VASA-Skap can be seen offering compliments to the opposing teams and even bringing thank you treats for a quick snack after the matches. 

The VASA-Skap team smiles for their photo at an away game. They believe the secret to winning is being happy and focused on maintaining their friendship and smiles on and off the court. (Sue Smith)

While the team continues its sisterhood on the court, its BYU pride is at risk of tainting red as the 8th North VASA gym will be removing their indoor tennis courts from their facility. After asking BYU to use its indoor facilities for their home base, they were declined. 

Director of the Student Wellness and Facility Services Jon Kau said that while the group is affiliated with BYU, the facilities are meant for university programs and activities. Without being a BYU sponsored club, the USTA group would not be able to make the BYU indoor courts their home court.

“Our courts are full enough as it is,” Kau said. “To secure them so that they can play home matches just isn’t feasible.”

With no other access to an indoor court, the team will likely have to make their home court at the George S. Eccles Tennis Center located at the University of Utah — a measure that comes begrudgingly.

Even if it makes the transfer to The U, the team said they will remain faithful to BYU by sporting their blue and white uniforms.

“I’ve always been a Cougar,” Smith said. “That’s never been a question.”

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