Spartanburg Ladies Prepare for Sixth Championship

May 15, 2014 09:39 AM

It’s probably the bread.

Before her Spartanburg team plays a league match, Karen Puckett bakes two loaves of sourdough bread in her oven. As she and her team play, the bread waits in the car, staying fresh and moist.

After the matches, Puckett hands out the two loaves.

One loaf is Player of The Week Bread, which goes to someone who came back from a few games down and won or whose play was exemplary in another way. The other is Sympathy Bread, for the person who played injured or stepped up in some other way for the team.

The fresh-out-of-the-oven bread, Puckett said, is one of the reasons her Spartanburg team will be competing at the USTA South Carolina Adult 40 and Over State League Championships this weekend in Aiken.

“To me, that’s an incentive for them to play better because they all love it,” she said. “They’re even happy with sympathy bread … That’s how I bribe them to win.”

The bread certainly can’t be hurting Puckett’s teams. (Puckett, 52, captains an 18 and over team and a 40 and over team in Spartanburg.)

When her 4.0 40 and over team plays at state this weekend, it will be the sixth consecutive year a team of Puckett’s has gone to a state championship.

Her teams, though, have endured rough seasons.

The first season many of Puckett’s current teammates and her were on a team, they were winless until the last match of the season. (Disclosure: Most of them were rated as 3.5 players and they were playing up a level, at 4.0.)

Puckett, like her teammates, likes to win but also enjoys tennis for other reasons.

“I like the social aspect that tennis affords,” she said.

She and her team keep returning to USTA SC State League Championships when they win the Spartanburg league because it’s always a fun experience.

They meet new people from all over South Carolina, and they experience new cities and places.

Playing new people also can help Puckett’s unorthodox tennis game; she has two forehands and no backhand.

Most in the Spartanburg area who play tennis around her level know Puckett’s secret. But when she goes to a new place and plays new people, as she will this weekend, her opponents are confused.

“Did you just switch hands?” they’ll ask. “How do you do that? Are you right-handed or left-handed?”

Puckett mostly laughs.

And although a back injury will keep her sidelined this weekend, she plans to share plenty of laughs and enjoy the weekend with her team.

“It’s in the top in the state,” she said of USTA SC’s 40 and Over State League Championships. “I’m proud of my girls.”