The 92nd FHSAA tennis state series begins in earnest with three area boys district tennis tournaments beginning Monday and running through Friday.
Crystal River hosts the Class 2A, District 7 Tournament beginning Monday on the Pirates' eight courts.
The single-elimination event features four teams from Hernando County, Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee; and 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 and Friday.
That event 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.
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Parity is the operative word in the 3A-5 tourney.
Springstead (12-1 overall) returns three starters from last season's first-ever district championship squad in 32 years: junior Patrick Deslaurier at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles, senior Hank Deslaurier at No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles, and junior Robbie Hoover at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles.
The trio all earned first-place district championship ribbons at last year.
This season, the Eagles were the lone team to complete district play unbeaten at 4-0. SHS claimed wins over four of the district's finest squads: Lecanto, 4-3, Citrus, 7-0, Forest, 5-2, and Vanguard, 4-3.
The Forest Wildcats, however, derailed Springstead in the regional semifinals last spring at Delta Woods Park, 4-3.
To help speed up play in this tournament, rather than playing the best 2-of-3 to decide matches - all third sets will be decided by a 10-point tiebreaker.
As far as the tourney favorite, Lecanto veteran skipper and tourney director Jack Hall hedged his bets.
"Depending on the draw, I think any one of four teams - Springstead, Vanguard, Forest or Lecanto - could walk away with it," detailed Hall.
"Obviously our goal is to win it," declared third-year Springstead mentor Joe Nicolai after his team clinched a share of its second Hernando County championship by sweeping Hernando on Thursday, 7-0. "What's hard is we haven't played all the teams, so it's difficult to predict what may happen."
Nicolai, who arrives 39-7 overall (85 percent), believes the Eagles are battle-tested with close wins over the district's hierarchy, saying, "I think we've played the best teams in the district and we have the capability to play even better."
On the always tricky draw, "The draw is always big, it can make or break any team," insisted Nicolai. "Execution is at a premium. To succeed, coaches have to motivate their players to do the best they can. It'll take perseverance to win, but you've also got to play well."
According to Nicolai, the key to an Eagle repeat boils down to simplicity.
"We can't afford a one-and-done at any level and we need to get a win out of our No. 1 doubles team. It's all about pushing guys into the finals," Nicolai said.
The tourney dark horse, according to Nicolai, is Lecanto.
"Lecanto's first two guys (Rishi Gurnani and Sam Alford at No. 1 -2 singles) can make some noise; so they definitely have a chance," he said.
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Nature Coast has been a regional playoff fixture for the past five seasons.
NCT, which claimed back-to-back-to-back district titles from 2009-11, has finished as district runners-ups to Pasco the past two seasons.
Last year, NCT lost to Pasco at Anclote, 19-12.
NCT's lone district champ last season, junior Jerry Bianculli (6-0 in 2014) at No. 5 singles, lost a challenge match three weeks ago, and will not be playing singles at Crystal River.
The Brooksville netters will be led by junior Jesse DeWitt (11-3) at No. 1 singles, sophomore Nick Pais (10-1) at No. 5 and junior Dakota Willey (10-3) at No. 2 singles.
The Sharks, who split the Hernando County championship with Springstead, may hold an ace up their sleeves arriving with a perfect 10-0 slate against 2A-7 foes.
NCT stands 3-0 against two of the best teams in the field: Crystal River and Pasco.
NCT opened its season by drilling the Crystal River Pirates, 7-0.
In the second meeting, Homosassa's Tom Brown, who guides the Sharks, emptied his bench as substitutes edged CRHS, 4-3.
The Brooksville netters also possess a key victory over the Pasco Pirates in Dade City on Feb. 25, 4-3.
Coach Brown, who arrives 109-34 lifetime, is seeking his fifth district championship in nine seasons.
"A lot will depend on the draw," pointed out Brown. "If you're favored you can't lose early matches."
Brown sees no problem with his team's fitness, but drew a line in the sand on playing consistent tennis.
"It really boils down to how well we play the close points," he said.
In forecasting the tourney, "We've got to stay one step ahead of Pasco," warned Brown. "If they win a match, we need to win a match. Last year, losing at No. 2 doubles hurt. Our guys know they have to get one match under their belt and then look for No. 2, then No. 3, etc."
Hernando County's other teams are extreme long shots to advance.
Hernando, with its seventh coach in eighth years, arrives 3-11 under first-year mentor Ken Day.
Day's troops would like to improve on the Leopards' seventh-place finish, out of nine teams, at Anclote last spring. HHS was blitzed going 0-5 in singles and 1-2 in doubles.
The team's finest player, sophomore Charles Steinkamp, who has anchored No. 1 singles most of the season, however, will not be available for districts due to a school project.
Senior Michael Morgan at No. 2 singles leads the Purple and Gold at 4-8.
"Our goal is to get some experience for the younger guys," explained Coach Day. "I'd like to see our older kids win a match."
In forecasting the tourney, "I think it'll boil down to Pasco and Nature Coast," detailed Day. "To me, the deciding factor is who shows up to play."
Weeki Wachee wasn't the same after losing senior and the multi-dimensional Andrew Jensen to an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury during soccer.
As a result, WWHS began the season minus three starters from last's year's squad that finished fourth in the 1A-8 Tourney.
This year, the Hornets arrive 5-8 overall and are led by sophomore Mark Mulleavey.
Mulleavey is a team-best 8-4 at No. 2 singles. He and senior Chris Rosser are 6-4 at No. 1 doubles.
No Hornet netter has ever reached a district final.
Third-year WWHS mentor Bob Croyle, who formerly taught and coached at CRHS, said of the tourney, "We hope to get someone through to Day 2."
Central, which finished winless in 2013 at 0-14, improved to 2-11 under second-year skipper Bob Gill.
CHS senior Mateo Cordero and junior Jacob Middaugh have each captured a team-high four singles matches.
The Bears want nothing more than to make amends for the last spring's eighth-place finish, out of eight teams, in the 3A-6 Tourney.
At last season's district, CHS failed to score a point finishing 0-5 in singles and 0-2 in doubles.
"We are very close with Hernando and our finish will depend on the draws," said Gill. "Wesley Chapel is where we were last season."
Gill forecasts a photo finish at the top, saying, "Pasco and Nature Coast are in a dead heat with Crystal River clearly third. Weeki Wachee is fourth, although I haven't seen Zephyrhills."
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The HCA Lions concluded their best-ever regular season at 11-5.
The Brooksville netters were looking forward to their first-ever FHSAA appearance.
Third-year mentor Pastor Jeff Moore had to temper his enthusiasm after learning that his No. 1 singles standout, foreign exchange junior Louis Frach, will be out of town next week.
Without Frach (13-3), HCA has had to scramble its lineup prior to facing a stout field that includes 2013 Class 1A fourth-place state finisher Tampa Prep, always-tough Berkeley Prep and dangerous Clearwater Central Catholic.
HCA senior Leonardo Arvedi (13-1), who played the majority of the season at No. 2 singles, moves to No. 1 and is seeded fifth.
Two other Lions with winning records include: Brielle Manuel (8-6) at No. 4 and Andrew Barrett at No. 5 (10-3).
Junior Marvin Kolb/Arvedi went unbeaten at No. 1 doubles (7-0).
"We were in good shape conditioning-wise," pointed out Pastor Moore. "And all season long we scheduled a lot of tougher matches to get us prepared for districts. Tampa Prep was one of those teams that didn't want to schedule us. I don't know why they couldn't fit us in."
On regrouping prior to next week's tourney, "Obviously, we went from being serious contenders to being an unknown factor," said Moore. "All the boys know they'll have to step up their game.
"Without Louis, our top two guys are stepping into a minefield," noted Moore. "That means our bottom three guys have to push it. For any of the teams that wouldn't schedule us, I just hope our guys go out there and prove them wrong."
Pastor Moore predicts CCC to walk away as district champion.
"CCC's top three singles guys are top notch, so is their No. 1 doubles," Moore said. "We'll see."
At a Glance
What - Class 3A, District 5 Boys Tennis Tournament.
Who - Ten teams including four 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 Boys Tennis Tournament.
Who - Eight teams featuring four from Hernando County, Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical and Weeki Wachee; and three teams from Pasco County, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills, as well as host Crystal River.
Where - Crystal River, 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 Boys 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.