We just deplaned the red eye from Salt Lake City, Utah to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a week of competing in the USA Pickleball Tournament of Champions (called “TOC”). Needless to say, Anna Leigh and I (Leigh Waters) are tired both mentally and physically. But, our time in Brigham City, Utah, was well rewarded.
If you’ve never been there, Brigham City is a very small town about an hour north of Salt Lake City. It is the home of a large pickleball facility that sits at the base of a beautiful mountain range. The facility has two stadium courts and has added further exterior courts in the last year.
Anna Leigh and I have fond memories of TOC, as we were the 2019 pro women's doubles champions. It was our first major tournament win and, I believe, really gave us the confidence to then go on to win 2019 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships in Indian Wells, California. TOC is also often known as a tournament of upsets, and here is why: the conditions are not easy.
We arrived in Utah three days prior to the tournament start date. Living at sea level in Florida, we generally need that time to adjust to a variety of factors - first and foremost, the altitude of almost 4,500 feet. We have to learn how to breathe under the stress of competition. We also have to adjust to the ball flight, as the altitude can play havoc with many strokes, specifically the serve, return, and drive. Lastly, our bodies have to learn to be on Mountain Time rather than Eastern Time, a 2-hour time difference.
This year we also arrived early so that AL (short for Anna Leigh) could finally get to Lagoon, an amusement park filled with roller coasters and thrill rides. It was the perfect place for a 14 year old to have some much deserved fun, and a great excuse for us adults to act like kids again. Lagoon was a nice distraction from the stress that an upcoming tournament brings. I’ve found it is very important to add fun activities to our pickleball tournament trips in order to keep us all mentally sane and to remind ourselves that these tournaments are more than just pickleball tournaments. They are family bonding trips and we are so fortunate to be making memories across the country together.
As you may or may not know, AL is quite the foodie. She loves Brigham City because of a few special places. First is Maddox Ranch House. This place is unlike any restaurant I have been anywhere else. Folks come from all over the surrounding area and there is always a line of 100 people just to get in. They grow much of their own meats, serve the best rolls ever with homemade raspberry butter (they bake 17,000 rolls per week!), pour water from their own spring, and dazzle your taste buds with their homemade desserts. But, your trip to Brigham cannot be complete without visiting Peach City drive-in. There you will devour the best milkshakes you have ever tasted, and nothing tastes better after a hard day on the pickleball court. Win or lose, celebrating or sulking, these milkshakes are the perfect treat.
But, I digress. This year, TOC experienced rain like no other year. In fact, the area had not seen rain in four months. The weather caused the women’s bracket to be moved indoors. This added another layer of difficulty as we never play indoors here in Florida. We fought hard, and were mere points from being in the winner’s bracket final, but fell just short to the eventual gold medal winners 11-8 in the third game. More determined than ever, we climbed our way back to the podium and won bronze.
Anna Leigh continued her pro women's singles streak and gained a repeat gold medal (she recently won the PPA Rocky Mountain Championships pro women's singles, too). She has battled in her last two pickleball tournaments and her hard work is definitely paying off.
Singles day at TOC added yet another layer of difficulty. There was extreme wind and wind gusts due to storms in the area. Competitors had to adjust to playing into the wind on one side, and with the wind on the other. With my "coaching hat" on (since I do not play singles), I kept telling AL that, in those conditions, keeping her feet moving and her eye on the ball was most important. This is because the pickleball is always moving in unpredictable ways, and so you must be able to adjust your feet to compensate, as well as keep your eyes on the pickleball as it moves away from where you originally may have expected.
The great lesson we learned at TOC is that there are always both expected and unexpected tournament conditions. All players had to deal with these conditions, not just us. It is important to make adjustments and figure out how these conditions can play to your advantage, rather than dwelling on how difficult it is to play. Only then will you put yourself in the position to be a champion!