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Sunshine State Games draw area’s top pickleball players to Punta Gorda

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Medalists in the Women’s Doubles 60-64 division were: (left to right) Melissa Eichmeyer and Sarah Valentine; Linda Cook and Nancy Corona; Val Thomopalos and Kathy McCausey. Photo courtesy of Kathy McCausey

Some of the top pickleball players from the Tampa Bay region recently trekked to Punta Gorda for the Sunshine State Games at the PicklePlex. For several top finishers, it proved to be a worthwhile trip to that city in Charlotte County.

The June 2-4 pickleball championships served as a qualifier for the Florida Senior Games, slated for December at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis Center in Zephyrhills. The 44th Annual Sunshine State Games included pickleball for a third straight year.

“It was good competition,” said Andy Rubenstein, the state’s pickleball tournament director. “The Sunshine State Games are really designed for every level.”

In all, 188 participants competed in 24 divisions for top-five spots, which earned them berths in the Florida Senior Games. While the games in Punta Gorda always have been for ages 50-and-over, Rubenstein said next year’s games will include lower age groups down to 18.

Among the best finishers in Punta Gorda was Sun City Center’s Linda Cook, who teamed with partner Nancy Corona, of Sarasota, to earn gold medals by winning the Women’s Doubles 60-64 Division. That pair has played together in tourneys for the past three seasons and last year qualified for the southeastern regionals in Alabama.

Linda Cook, of Sun City Center, competes on the court with partner Nancy Corona. Photo courtesy of Nick Gandy

“We’re a good team,” Cook said. “I think it’s just that we’re so compatible with each other. I know what she’s going to do and she knows what I’m going to do.”

That is a sentiment echoed by Kathy McCausey and Val Thomopalos, a Land O’Lakes tandem that also has played together for several years. They qualified for the Florida Senior Games.

“Val and I enter every competition with the confidence that we can and will do well,” McCausey said. “We started out playing well and jiving as a team. In the two matches we lost, our mojo somehow went awry.

“During our post event briefing, we committed to each other more and to play together as a team. This will help prepare us for our next competition: The National Senior Games in Pittsburgh in July.”

Other gold medalists in the tourney were: Cindy Mitze, Wimauma, Mixed Doubles 55-59 with Paul Reis; and Luiz Telles, Palm Harbor, Men’s Doubles 70-74 with James Grafmeyer, from The Villages.

Val Thomopalos and Kathy McCausey, both of Land O’Lakes, qualified for the Florida Senior Games. Photo courtesy of Kathy McCausey

Next up is the Sunshine Slam Pickleball Fest, a round-robin tournament with medal elimination rounds, set for June 23-24 at the Zephyrhills-based tennis center. Some of the proceeds from that competition are earmarked for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

By Steve Lee

Times Total Media Correspondent

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