Pilgrim shepherds home national title

Published 11:42 pm Saturday, October 22, 2016

One of Vicksburg’s very own has brought home a national tennis championship.

Jeffrey Pilgrim helped capture the United States Tennis Association League Adult 18 and Over 3.5 National Championship with a team based out of Jackson. The tournament was held in Mobile, Ala., earlier this month.

The Mississippi team beat 16 others from around the country. It faced teams from Puerto Rico, New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in flights, and then Florida in the semifinals and Texas in the finals. The tournament was set up where each team plays two singles and three doubles matches.

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“It was really nice. It was fun. I got to meet people from all over the nation,” said Pilgrim, who is the head tennis coach and an assistant volleyball coach at Warren Central.

To qualify for the national tournament, the team from Jackson had to first win the state tournament and then the southern sectional made up of nine states — the largest section in the USTA.

Pilgrim was asked to join the Jackson team by the captain and longtime friend Conway Craig.

Pilgrim waited to join until he knew there wouldn’t be a team from Vicksburg in his division and age group. He said he would have preferred to play with a local team.

“Had there been a team from Vicksburg, I would have played for Vicksburg because this is where I live, and I want to play for a team that represents my community,” Pilgrim said. “I made that very clear to the captain.”

Pilgrim said he wasn’t the only player on the team who lived outside of Jackson. Craig was trying to form a winning team, and Pilgrim said the expectation was there to go all the way.

Pilgrim is rated as a 3.5 player on a scale of 2.5 to 5.0, and will move up to a 4.0 next year.

“He was wanting to win nationals,” Pilgrim said.

There were 14 players on the team. Eight could play per match and 10 made the trip to Mobile.
In addition to being the assistant volleyball coach at Warren Central High School, he is also the tennis coach. While he is in season coaching, he practices three days a week, but during the offseason he said he practices five days a week.

“I just like to play,” Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim proved that by commuting between Vicksburg and Mobile during the tournament. His duties with Warren Central’s volleyball team required him to attend one of its matches and miss a pool play match against Pennsylvania in the tennis tournament.

“I drove back to Mobile after that. It was eight hours of driving in one day,” Pilgrim said. “The drive was not as terrible as I thought it was going to be.”

Pilgrim returned to Mobile in time to help Mississippi beat Texas in the finals. Pilgrim played four doubles matches with Jason Singh and one singles match during the national tournament.

“Texas was by far the strongest team we played,” he said. “It was the right teams to play in the championship.”