LBI Tournament Features Three Days of Pickleball Prowess at Multiple Levels

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 14, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Kristen Mueller smashes the ball for a point during the LBI Pickleball Tournament Mixed Doubles 4.0 championship match at the Nelson Avenue courts in Beach Haven on Aug. 10.

Beach Haven — Kristen Mueller’s NCAA Division I tennis experience has been paying off. Brad Emdur’s ping pong experience has been earning dividends as well. The 31-year-old dietician and 29-year-old casino worker have been playing alongside each other for only about eight months, but they’ve developed into a powerful duo on the pickleball court.

“I like the strategy of pickleball, especially in doubles,” said Emdur, of Cherry Hill, who along with Mueller snagged the Mixed Doubles 4.0 title of the LBI Pickleball Tournament at the Beach on Aug. 10, part of a three-day event at the Nelson Avenue courts in Beach Haven, comprised of some 180 players in eight divisions. “I really like the speed of the game. I like the slow game that turns into the fast game at the net. And if you have a good partner, you really can pick apart the other team and it’s a lot of fun.”

Up against Phil Gilbert and Annette Kubricki in the final match, Emdur and Mueller captured the first game, 11-7, and won seven of the first 10 points of the second game before Gilbert and Kubricki mounted a comeback, ultimately pulling even at 8-8 before going on to win, 11-9.

“This game is so much about momentum,” Emdur said. “We were cruising along, up 7-3, and all of a sudden they score some points and we’re losing. After that game, we left the court for some water and just regrouped a little. We came back with the thinking that we just had to get back to basics and wear them down.”

“The basics” included setting up opportunities for Mueller to deliver points with her hammering forehand shot and utilizing a slow, short game at the net to set up Emdur’s sneaky backhanded poke to the left side.

The pair jumped out to  a 6-1 lead, but Gilbert and Kubricki managed to bounce back, again, cutting the deficit to two, 7-5, before Emdur and Mueller dropped the hammer and won five of the next seven points. Emdur and Mueller endured a lengthy and fast rally – totaling nine volleys at the net – to score match point.

“Everything I hit, he returned,” said the 49-year-old Gilbert, who played pickleball once in September while in Florida and was hooked. “And he had that one shot he used, which was very effective, to score a few critical points. It was a long day, and if it was earlier on in the tournament I probably could get a paddle on those balls. But I was little tired at the end there.”

Mueller, a Millstone native and former University of Delaware tennis player who, impressively, walked on as a freshman and ended up playing all four years, said she loves the pickleball scene on Long Beach Island during the summer.

“During the past couple of summers, I’ve noticed a lot more people playing here, and for a while I was just a tennis player playing on a pickleball court,” she said. “I was trying to overpower the ball and that’s not really the way to play the game, so I started learning more of the soft game and the strategy. My game has improved exponentially since then.”

Joel and Jackie Wolf apparently enjoy playing pickleball on the Island, too. They hopped into the family boat and cruised down Barnegat Bay from Toms River to play in the Mixed Doubles 3.5 bracket.

“I started playing about a year ago and my daughter started about five or sixth months ago,” said Joel, who used a fantastic serve to score points in bunches during the first game of their 12-10, 11-7 championship victory over Bret Spangler and Lori Guitson. “A friend of mine was playing in this tournament and it’s close to home, and I love playing with my daughter, so we decided to come join the action.”

After a thrilling, two-point win in the first game, the “Wolf Pack” jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second game before Spangler and Guitson chipped away at the lead, eventually tying the contest at 5-5. Following a timeout, the Wolfs scored four straight points to go up 9-5. A Spangler smash and a drop shot into the net by one of the Wolfs made it 9-7, but Jackie delivered a hammer forehand to the middle and Joel added another for the next two points.

“My dad’s really modest, but his serve in the first game was the deciding factor,” said Jackie, a 24-year-old former soccer player at Toms River High School East and Ocean County College. “I just used my athleticism to help do whatever I can to score points. But we play a lot and mix our talents well.”

Many other pickleball pairs mixed their talents to finish among the medalists in the other six divisions as well.

In the Mixed Doubles 3.0 bracket, Janet and John Alter won the championship over Mike and Sharon Monaco, while Carrie Maldonato and Doug Coath finished third. Walter Scott and Virginia O’Connor were third in the 4.0 bracket and Paulie and Anna Nunziato grabbed third in the 3.5 division.

In the Women’s Doubles 4.0 division, first place went to Amanda and Vanessa Hendry, while Missy Corbin-Potter and Margaret Potter took the silver medal, and Francine Siedlecki and Beth Betitte finished third. Nancy Freeman and Lori Pahler snatched the gold in the Women’s Doubles 3.5 division, as Marcy Parker and Trisha McGarry snagged second place, and Amy Webb and Mary Kate Kelly swiped the bronze. RuthAnn Holl and Annmarie Emanuelo-Uhl defeated Marla Wink and Karen Anderson-Ennis in the Women’s Doubles 3.0 title match, while Kathleen Whartenby and Liz Daly took third.

In the Men’s Doubles 4.0 championship, Mark and Andrew McStay knocked off Mike Mix and Pasquale Moore, while Gilbert and Joel Wolf ended up third. The Men’s Doubles 3.5 winners were Paul Potter and Greg Costas, who outlasted Bob Andreotta and Riley Flynn in second and Paul Nunziato and Mark Travers in third.

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