Thunder in the Mountains, a women’s collegiate tennis tournament featuring a plethora of Division I and Division II tennis talent, is taking place Thursday through Sunday at the Schoenbaum Tennis Courts next to the Kanawha City recreation center.
It will be the second annual event — the first Thunder in the Mountains took place in 2019 and COVID caused its cancellation in 2020.
Marshall, WVU, West Virginia State, Villanova, St. Francis and Radford are competing in the tournament.
“I’m really excited about it,” tournament director Rusty Webb said. “I think it has the potential to be a statewide [and regional] destination sports event. I’ve borrowed the best of the Western Southern Open — which is a professional tournament in Cincinnati — to try to make it as close to a professional tournament as I can.”
The tournament will be run round-robin style, with all teams playing one another in turn.
Activities kick off Thursday as teams will practice at Schoenbaum. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. there will be a fundraiser and meet-and-greet at the Four Points by Sheraton on Kanawha Boulevard.
The opening ceremony will take place at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Schoenbaum and Marshall will take on Villanova starting at 9 a.m. At noon, St. Francis will face WVSU, and WVU matches up against Radford at 3 p.m. to end the day.
Following Friday’s final match, there will be an autograph session at Live on the Levee.
On Saturday, play begins at 8:30 a.m. with the Director’s Cut Match — five doubles games featuring Marshall and WVU players. At 9 a.m., WVU plays WVSU; at noon, Marshall takes on St. Francis; and at 3 p.m., Villanova plays Radford. After an intermission and news conference, Marshall takes on WVSU at 6 p.m. to end the day.
Sunday’s final slate of matches opens with a 9 a.m. matchup between Radford and WVSU. At noon, Villanova and St. Francis play. The final match of the tournament features the most intriguing as Marshall and WVU face off at 3 p.m. Closing ceremonies will immediately follow the match.
There will be vendors, a DJ playing songs during changeovers, merchandise sales including official tournament T-shirts and silent auctions and raffles throughout the tournament. Sunday’s matches will be live-streamed.
In 2019, Thunder in the Mountains was relatively unheard of to the public, according to Webb. Webb, an avid tennis player, said he stumbled upon the 2019 Thunder in the Mountains tournament and thought it was the University of Charleston participating in a match.
“I go down [to Schoenbaum Tennis Courts] on a Friday afternoon and I see all these tennis players and I’m assuming it’s the University of Charleston because that’s their home court.”
But it wasn’t UC. It was Marshall, WVU, Toledo, James Madison and Akron competing in Thunder in the Mountains.
“My first thought was ‘How did I not know about this?’ And there were no fans there,” Webb said.
Webb said he took to social media to try and spread the word about the tournament.
“By Sunday, whether it was me or not, there were 30 people there,” he said.
After the 2019 event concluded, Webb reached out to Charleston tennis pro Mindy White — the person who arranged for the teams to play at Schoenbaum — and proposed the idea of making Thunder in the Mountains a bigger deal in the future.
Webb used his marketing skills to spread the word via social media and press releases.
“I’ll brag a little bit,” he said. “I’m a pretty savvy marketer. I know the ropes. I know how to do press releases. We’re gonna find out how successful that [will] be.”
Because last year’s tournament was canceled due to COVID, this year’s tournament has been two years in the making.
“Who knows where it’ll go,” Webb said.
There will be an international aspect to the tournament, as 14 different countries are going to be represented by athletes competing.
“I’ve ordered 14 flags representing 14 countries represented [by players],” Webb said. “I think the student-athletes are gonna get a kick out of seeing their native flag flying. It’s just pretty neat that we have six conferences represented and 14 countries.”