Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Sports

Crowded field hinders Lady Eagles' path

By TONY CASTRO
Hernando Today correspondent

Published:

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There are no clear-cut district favorites as the 76th FHSAA girls tennis state series gets underway with three area tennis tournaments beginning Monday.

Crystal River hosts the Class 2A, District 7 Tournament beginning Monday on the Pirates' eight courts.

The single-elimination tournament features four teams from Hernando County, Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee; three teams from Pasco County, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.as well as host Crystal River.

A coaches' seeding meeting sets the table at 8 a.m. with play expected to begin at 9 a.m. and run all day. Tuesday's action also begins at 9 a.m.

At neighboring Lecanto, the Panthers will host nine teams on its 10 courts in the 3A-5 Tournament beginning Tuesday. The event is scheduled to conclude Wednesday.

This district features four teams from Marion County, Ocala-Forest, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-West Port and Ocala-Vanguard; three teams from Lake County, Groveland-South Lake, Lake Minneola and Leesburg; Hernando County's Springstead, and Citrus County's Citrus and host Lecanto.

At Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Tampa-Berkeley Prep will host the 11-team 1A-7 Tournament running Thursday through Friday.

That district features five teams from Hillsborough County, host Berkeley Prep, Tampa-Brooks-DeBartolo, Tampa-Carrollwood Day, Tampa-Cambridge Christian and Tampa Prep; three teams from Pinellas County, Clearwater-Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic and Largo-Indian Rocks Christian; two teams from Pasco County, Bishop McLaughlin and Academy at the Lakes; and one from Hernando County, Hernando Christian Academy.

The top two teams from each of the three tourneys advances to their respective regional semifinals slated to begin April 8.

? ? ?

Forecasting the girls side of 3A-5 is a dubious task.

Springstead began the season with five singles starters returning from last year's district title run at River Ridge, but arrives 2-4 in district play.

Eagle mentor Rick Scholl's 10-5 crew bested Vanguard, 4-3, but was swept by Citrus, 4-3 twice, fell to Forest, 4-3, and was crushed by Lecanto, 6-1.

Lecanto fell to Forest by one point in the 3A-5 Tourney last spring. LHS then traveled to Spring Hill for the regional semifinals and clipped the Eagles, 4-2.

In last year's regional final, Forest expunged LHS, 4-0.

In a tournament where very little separates four quality teams, LHS' nemesis, Citrus, is hungry to return to the regional playoffs.

CHS last won districts in 2011 and finished as a district runner-up in 2012.

For its part, SHS will be represented by senior Robyn Cotney (15-0) at No. 3 singles, junior Scarlett Semack (6-6) at No. 2, junior Sara Guerrero (9-1) at No. 4 and senior Sarina Singh (10-4) at No. 5.

Singh beat out 2013 All-County selection Ashley Clark (6-1) to play in districts.

In doubles, Semack and Cotney (7-2) are a formidable duo at No. 2.

Both Semack and Cotney were district champions in singles action and at No. 2 doubles a year ago.

Though the Spring Hill netters arrive fresh from their first county championship since the millennium, Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Nature Coast left a sour taste.

"I don't like where we're at. There's a lack of commitment cropping up - I don't like it," said Scholl. "Trust me; we'll be having a meeting of the minds on Monday before districts to iron some things out."

On winning the county, "It would have been nice to have finished unbeaten," said Scholl. "That was the goal. I'm still happy for the girls, they earned this."

"We're going in pretty healthy," detailed Scholl. "Unless the heat is unbearable, we should be fine."

The draw, according to the tennis teaching pro, is another matter.

"The draw is huge, especially when you're dealing with different girls in a bracket," he said.

Scholl believes Cotney and the No. 2 doubles team should be seeded among the top three.

On predicting the tourney, "Of our five losses, we've lost four times 4-3, so we've been right there at the cusp of winning," he said. "Basically, one match has decided whether or not we finished 14-1 or 10-5. Either of our two losses to Citrus and Forest could have easily been flipped.

"To me, Lecanto looks the favorite," insisted Scholl. "They beat us worse than anybody we played. Our other district matches were very close. For us, we have to play like we're capable of playing. If we do that, I really like our chances."

"Everybody has to start out positive and collect that first match victory," noted Scholl, on the key to success.

? ? ?

Hernando (8-5 overall) hasn't captured a district championship since 2006 under Teri Sellers.

In Sellers' seven seasons, the Purple and Gold reached the regional playoffs seven times, hoisting three district championship banners.

Since then, HHS finished as high as district runners-up in 2007 and last year.

Minus two starters, HHS opened the season losing to Pasco, 5-2, and fell to Crystal River, 4-3, but has swept both matches from Nature Coast.

HHS returns three starters - sophomore Grace Curren at No. 1 singles and doubles, and seniors Lida Marie Steinkamp at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles and Shelby Smith at No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles - from last year's squad that fell in districts at Pasco to the Lady Pirates, 16-15.

Last year, Curren fell in the No. 1 singles final, but solved Pasco's reigning district champion, Madison Johnson this season, 7-5, 6-2.

The 2013 Hernando Today Player of the Year, Curren, arrives with a team-best 12-1 slate in singles. She's won seven straight matches since falling to Lecanto junior Madison Gamble, 6-4, 7-5.

Curren and junior Jada Bergstrom also arrive 9-2 at No. 1 doubles.

Steinkamp, another 2013 district champion, enters 9-1 overall. She's won four in a row since getting tattooed by Crystal River's Olivia Parker, 6-0, 6-3.

First-year HHS mentor Connie Foster believes her team, "Could go far in districts. We have the ability."

Nature Coast arrives 8-5 overall and could very well factor into the district race.

Despite dropping the home and away regular-season series to Hernando, the Lady Sharks bested Pasco, 4-3, and opened the season with a 3-all tie with Crystal River.

Against Crystal River, NCT was ahead during the third set at No. 1 singles, 7-4 in a tiebreaker, before darkness suspended the key Feb. 4 match. The scheduled second match was rained out.

NCT finished third last year at Pasco with 11 points.

The Lady Sharks retain three starters from last year's district squad: seniors Jennifer Sniffen and Katie Viola, and junior Madeline Pickersgill.

Sniffen (6-7 in singles play) is the lone returning district champion.

Viola (9-4) and Pickersgill (7-5) take a backseat to the team's best record held by sophomore Lexi Morales (10-3).

Additionally, Viola and Kara Champion (8-4) man the No. 2 doubles while Pickersgill/Sniffen (7-4) anchor No. 1 doubles.

NCT's third-year mentor John Downey (26-14 lifetime) believes this Lady Shark team may be the first since 2009 to claim a district title.

"Mentally, we're in a good place and we're playing right where I thought we should be," he said. "We're just as prepared as we can be."

Peering into 2A-7, "There's no doubt it's a tight race," said Downey. "It'll be a dogfight. For us to win, we need to come out focused and ready to go the distance. Most importantly, we've got to play our game."

Both Central and Weeki Wachee appear to be long shots to advance.

Central placed third in the rugged 3A-6 Tourney last season at River Ridge, finishing two points behind second-place Land O' Lakes.

Four Lady Bear netters reached the finals - though all took second.

Only junior Nicole Carrier (bad wrist) and sophomore Vanessa Valencia are back from last season's district squad.

CHS (4-11) is led by junior Jordan Brunetti (8-7) and Valencia (7-8).

"It's a different district and I have a young team that is rebuilding," pointed out CHS' seventh-year skipper Sonya Burns (48-50 lifetime). "If you're not seeded 1-2, it's an uphill battle.

"I'm looking at this tournament more on an individual level," she added. "I'd like to see our girls hold their own. We've played some district opponents really close."

Last season, Weeki Wachee tied with two other teams for third place in the rugged 1A-8 Tourney in Tampa.

In a year's time, four Lady Hornet starters off that team are not playing this year leading to a 1-12 campaign.

? ? ?

HCA's Lady Lion netters dropped their last five matches to finish 6-10 overall.

Junior Vivan Dong (8-5) at No. 5 singles arrives in Hillsborough County with her team's best record.

This week marks HCA's first foray into the FHSAA state series.

Third-year mentor Pastor Jeff Moore (7-25 lifetime) clearly understands what the Brooksville netters are walking into.

"This is a very young team with four freshmen and one seventh-grader," admitted Pastor Moore. "Our attitude is to go to Tampa and have some fun. In three years, hopefully, people will be looking at us as district contenders."

At a Glance

What - Class 3A, District 5 Girls Tennis Tournament.

Who - Ten teams including four teams from Marion County, Ocala-Forest, Ocala-Lake Weir, Ocala-West Port and Ocala-Vanguard; three teams from Lake County, Groveland-South Lake, Lake Minneola and Leesburg; Hernando County's Springstead, and Citrus County's Citrus and host Lecanto.

Where - Lecanto High, 3810 W. Educational Path, Lecanto.

When - Tuesday through Wednesday. Thursday is a designated rain day or tiebreaker day. Action begins both days at 9 a.m.

At Stake - Ribbons awarded to top two individual singles players and top two doubles teams. Team trophies awarded to first- and second-place teams. District champion and district runner-up advance to the 3A-Region III semifinal set for April 8.

What - Class 2A, District 7 Girls Tennis Tournament.

Who - Eight teams featuring four teams from Hernando County, Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee; three teams from Pasco County, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.as well as host Crystal River.

Where - Crystal River High, 1205 NE 8th Ave., Crystal River.

When - Monday through Tuesday. Wednesday is a designated rain day or tiebreaker day. Action begins both days at 9 a.m.

At Stake - Ribbons awarded to top two individual singles players and top two doubles teams. Team trophies awarded to first- and second-place teams. District champion and district runner-up advance to the 2A-Region IV semifinal set for April 8.

What - Class 1A, District 7 Girls Tennis Tournament.

Who - Eleven teams featuring five teams from Hillsborough County, host Berkeley Prep, Tampa-Brooks-DeBartolo, Tampa-Carrollwood Day, Tampa-Cambridge Christian and Tampa Prep; three teams from Pinellas County, Clearwater-Calvary Christian, Clearwater Central Catholic and Largo-Indian Rocks Christian; two teams from Pasco County, Bishop McLaughlin and Academy at the Lakes; and one from Hernando County, Hernando Christian Academy.

Where - Hillsborough Community College tennis courts, 39 Columbia Dr., Tampa.

When - Thursday through Friday. Action begins both days at 8 a.m.

At Stake - Ribbons awarded to top two individual singles players and top two doubles teams. Team trophies awarded to first- and second-place teams. District champion and district runner-up advance to the 1A-Region IV semifinal set for April 8.

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