Michele Mouttapa loves the thrill of competing and playing for her local Orange County USTA League. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of captaining a team that goes all the way to win a national championship.
Yorba Linda’s Mouttapa recently came off a USTA Fall League season which saw her co-captain a 4.5 18-and-over team to the nationals in Surprise, Ariz., and a week later she helped lead a 4.5 40-and-over team to a second-place Nationals finish in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“What I enjoy most about captaining is just getting people out there to play,” said Mouttapa, who shared in the victories with her co-captain Vicky Blanco. “Winning is nice, but at the end of the day if you are able to get people to come out who were not into league tennis before and have them experience all the things that come from league tennis, that’s really important to me.”
The Stockton-native, who resides now in Yorba Linda, went as far as to say she’s had players come up and thank her for including them on the team. “For me, that’s what is most rewarding,” she said. “They say, ‘I’m so glad I played.’ It’s especially nice when I have parents with young children who still get to come out and play. I remember playing tournaments when my children were just four or five months old.”
As a child, fate played a role in Mouttapa discovering tennis as a pre-adolescent. She said her mother would take walks with the dog, and one day she met a lady from the neighborhood who taught tennis. “My mom asked me if I wanted to start taking lessons and I did,” she said. “At first I didn’t really care about the sport that much. I just liked spending time with my coach once a week.”
Mouttapa got more serious with tennis in high school, and even played her junior and senior years on the UC Davis women’s team.
She stayed active playing tournaments after moving to SoCal following college and achieved her PhD from USC. “As tournaments started dying out, I got more into leagues around 2007,” said Mouttapa, who soon after helped a women’s 4.5 team win at Nationals, and a mixed 10.0 team win another national title in Las Vegas. “I don’t feel pressure in a bad way being a captain. I think of how people are counting on me as a player, but as a captain, I feel like they are counting on me to make the right calls and decisions.”
Mouttapa is currently co-captaining a 4.5 doubles team with Blanco that is headed to Sectionals to kick off the 2022 calendar. “I think the thing I like best about tennis is that it was never easy to me,” said Mouttapa, who hits with both hands off the forehand and backhand sides. “I always had to work hard at it. I wasn’t a natural. But I worked hard at it and did whatever I could to keep improving at my game.”
Off the court, Mouttapa is a professor of Public Health at Cal-State Fullerton. She is currently the Director of the Health Professions Advising Office, which involves helping students navigate their way into a variety of health professions, including medical school, physician assistant school, physical therapy school, and public health. Her husband Brian Matek currently teaches at the Fullerton Tennis Center, and they recently purchased a home with a tennis court that got its share of use during months and months of the pandemic.
The new home has two dozen fruit trees, which has enabled Mouttapa to discover a new hobby and passion: gardening and picking fruit. “It was never something I was good at, but I kept watering them and working on them,” she said. “I just love picking the fruit and passing them out to my teammates.”